Presidential Debates in the Age of Partisan Media: A Field Experiment

40 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2017  

Kimberly Gross

George Washington University - Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Ethan Porter

George Washington University

Thomas Wood

Ohio State University (OSU)

Date Written: February 24, 2017

Abstract

To investigate media effects in political campaigns, we administered a field experiment around the first general election presidential debate of 2016. In this three-wave study, subjects were randomly incentivized to watch the debate and post-debate television coverage on Fox News or MSNBC. We find that post-debate coverage has strong effects on performance evaluations, with subjects' perceptions moving in the direction of the partisan slant of the channel they were assigned to watch on. Though these effects evolve over time, with subjects coming to express beliefs more in line with the media consensus, they do not disappear altogether. Moderate partisans were still affected by the post-debate coverage a week later. The effects we observe are limited to debate evaluations; at no point do we observe partisan media affecting vote choice. Our results offer evidence that media effects can persist over time, but are confined to candidate evaluations.

Keywords: presidential election, presidential debates, media effects, Trump, Clinton, public opinion, partisan media, Fox News, MSNBC

Suggested Citation

Gross, Kimberly and Porter, Ethan and Wood, Thomas, Presidential Debates in the Age of Partisan Media: A Field Experiment (February 24, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2926553 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2926553

Kimberly Gross

George Washington University - Columbian College of Arts and Sciences ( email )

Washington, DC 20052
United States

Ethan Porter (Contact Author)

George Washington University ( email )

2121 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Thomas Wood

Ohio State University (OSU) ( email )

Blankenship Hall-2010
901 Woody Hayes Drive
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States

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