45 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2017
Date Written: July 27, 2017
People tend to prefer politically congenial news — news that confirms and supports their prior beliefs and preferences. Many papers assume that this preference is driven by psychological forces: that we want news that “feels good” and/or to avoid news that “feels bad.” Other papers have proposed models showing how the preference for congenial news can stem from this news having greater perceived or actual instrumental information value. We assess these theories empirically by studying how variation in congeniality in news across and within outlets affects demand for news. We exploit two types of news stories that exhibit both types of this variation: horse race stories and stories evaluating the winner of presidential debates. We use both survey-experiment data and observational web data from a variety of outlets. In the survey-experiments, we find some evidence supporting the psychology theory, particularly for right-of-center consumers. In the web data, we find that horse race news is systematically slanted in a way that makes it more congenial to an outlet’s typical reader, but also that (relatively) highly congenial news is usually not more likely to make an outlet’s “most viewed” list, and sometimes less likely to do so. We draw two broad conclusions: 1) unsurprisingly, but in contrast to many economic models, consumers do not make news choices to maximize instrumental value; 2) the general preference for congenial news is not strictly driven by a psychological desire to avoid uncongenial information.
Keywords: Media Bias, Media Slant, Horse Race News, Presidential Debate News, Confirmation Bias, Cognitive Dissonance
JEL Classification: D72, D83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Garz, Marcel and Sood, Gaurav and Stone, Daniel F. and Wallace, Justin, What Drives Demand for Media Slant? (July 27, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3009791