Are Biased Media Bad for Democracy?

30 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2013 Last revised: 21 Feb 2019

See all articles by Stephane Wolton

Stephane Wolton

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government

Date Written: January 11, 2019

Abstract

This paper assesses the normative and positive claims regarding the consequences of biased media using a political agency framework that includes a strategic voter, polarized politicians, and news providers. My model predicts that voters are always better informed with unbiased than biased outlets even when the latter have opposite ideological preferences. However, biased media may improve voter welfare. Contrary to several scholars' fears, partisan news providers are not always bad for democracy. My theoretical findings also have important implications for empirical analyses of the electoral consequences of changes in the media environment. The impact of left-wing and right-wing biased outlets depends on the partisan identity of office-holders. Empirical findings may, thus, not be comparable across studies or even within studies over time. Existing empirical studies are unlikely to measure the consequences of biased media as researchers never observe and can rarely approximate the adequate counterfactual: elections with unbiased news outlets.

Keywords: omission bias, presentation bias, accountability, counterfactual

JEL Classification: D72, D78, D82

Suggested Citation

Wolton, Stephane, Are Biased Media Bad for Democracy? (January 11, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2285854 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2285854

Stephane Wolton (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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