Who Trusts State-Run Media? Polarized Perceptions of News Credibility in Non-Democracies
69 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2020 Last revised: 2 Jun 2021
Date Written: June 01, 2021
Recent research posits that authoritarian regimes increasingly rely on information manipulation for political survival. A puzzle in such accounts is that citizens in autocracies often have a choice of information sources yet trust propagandistic state media. I propose that this trust is largely explained by political like-mindedness, whereby two psychological mechanisms---confirmation bias and motivated reasoning---prompt government supporters to overestimate the trustworthiness of state-run media. I test these ideas in three studies situated in Russia. In two randomized experiments, I demonstrate that supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin trust reports from state media more than they trust reports from independent media. Additional survey evidence suggests that such trust is grounded in supporters' propensity to underestimate the bias of state media and the degree of government interference in these media. Thus, biased perceptions of media can make citizens more receptive to propaganda and reduce the threat of independent media to authoritarian rule.
Keywords: autocracy, media, propaganda, media trust
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