Negative Media Coverage of the Supreme Court: The Interactive Role of Opinion Language, Coalition Size, and Ideological Signals
35 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2016
Date Written: July 30, 2016
When does the media use negative language to cover the Supreme Court, and what are the political consequences of this portrayal? We offer a novel consideration of how judicial behavior influences coverage of the Court. Examining over 1,000 news articles from 29 diverse outlets covering rulings from the 2014 term, and using text-based measures of both the Court and media’s negative rhetoric, we find that the Court sends an important signal of conflict through use of negative language in its decisions, leading to an increase in negativity in subsequent news coverage. We also show that this effect is conditional upon both the degree of consensus among the justices and ideological signals the Court sends when it rules. Because our findings may have important implications regarding public opinion about the Court, we propose an experiment to test how the media’s use of negative rhetoric shapes policy approval, specific support, and legitimacy.
Keywords: Supreme Court, negativity, rhetoric, media coverage
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