Researchers find consuming Fox News or MSNBC correlates with voting decisions

Nov. 3, 2014, 9:24 p.m.

Researchers at Stanford University recently showed that spending more time consuming Fox News or MSNBC is correlated with voter decisions.

They estimated that a centrist voter who watches an hour of Fox News would be 7 percent more likely to vote Republican. A centrist voter who watches an hour of MSNBC would be 7 percent less likely to vote Republican.

“Coming into it I was thinking, if there’s an effect, it’s small,” said Ali Yurukoglu, a Stanford Graduate School of Business economist who conducted the study with Gregory J. Martin, a Stanford Ph.D. student when the research was conducted.

The numbers, however, showed otherwise.

Yurukoglu first based his research on a prior study, which analyzed Fox News’ effect on the 2000 election by looking at which areas in the country had access to the channel. However, Yurukoglu pointed out that in this research, correlation did not imply causality and that there was also the potential problem of reverse causality.

“The difficulty is if you just look at the data, you see people watch Fox News and you see people vote Republican — you find a correlation,” Yurukoglu said in a GSB article. “…It doesn’t mean that they’re persuaded to vote Republican because they watch Fox News.”

Their approach looked at the ordinal channel position that each cable news channel occupies in local listings. The researchers hypothesized an estimate that moving a channel’s position on cable from the 75th percentile to the 25th percentile would increase viewership by approximately 10 percent.

“We estimate that the effect of Fox News on the 2000 election was large,” the study concluded. With the aforementioned caveats, applying their hypothesized models to real-world contexts, they estimated that by removing Fox News from cable programming during the disputed 2000 election, the average county’s Republican vote share would have decreased by 1 to 2 percent — a margin which could have changed the outcomes.

Peter is currently a deputy desk editor and a freshman majoring in economics (anticipated). He enjoys soccer, basketball, and fitness.

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