The impact isn’t based on network quality, though, and not even as to how susceptible to influence its viewers may be. In fact, it’s merely derived from how often those voters may see those networks. And how often they see them can be determined by as simple a factor as channel number.
The lower its channel number, the more likely that network will be viewed, the study finds. After all, the lower numbers are commonly held by the older and more familiar networks used by local news stations and regular network affiliates; those networks have higher ratings, too. When viewers channel-surf from those networks, then, the lower-numbered of Fox or MSNBC is seen an average of four minutes longer every day, the study finds. And the longer that viewers are exposed to those networks, the more likely they are to be influenced by them. Regions where MSNBC had a lower channel number wind up with a higher rate of support for Democratic candidates; where Fox has the lower number, Republicans are more likely to have more votes.
In its introduction, the report reads:
“We estimate that Fox News increases the likelihood of voting Republican by 0.9 points among viewers induced into watching four additional minutes per week by differential channel positions.”
An additional four minutes of MSNBC makes viewers 0.7 percent more apt to vote Democrat, the study also says.
Regarding the 2000 race, the “Bias in Cable News” study found that Fox’s influence was enough to give Bush an extra 1.6 percent in total vote. But did that affect the overall outcome of the election?
Well, recall that Florida was the state that had election results so tight that it led to conflicting news reports – which led to a state Supreme Court calling for recount – which led to the U.S. Supreme Court that stopped the recount and gave Florida’s electoral votes to Bush – which gave him the White House that year. And when it all began, the margin of Bush’s then-victory was only 537 votes.
If that 1.6 percent influence was present in Florida, it would have amounted to 46,605 of Bush’s votes. And that reduction would have made Gore stand as the apparent victor, even with just the early count that first came out that night, by a margin of 46,068.
And, incidentally, do you recall which network was the first to claim Florida for Bush, and even though other networks had already deemed it a Gore win? That’s right – it was Fox News.
The “Bias in Cable News: Real Effects and Polarization” study can be downloaded for $5 from the National Bureau of Economic Research website.
(h/t to Wa/Po)