An Emory political scientist and his Stanford colleague figured out a sly way to demonstrate what you’ve always suspected: Fox News makes people more likely to vote Republican.

Emory University Assistant Professor of Political Science Gregory J. Martin

Emory University Assistant Professor of Political Science Gregory J. Martin

According to a working paper on the study:

We estimate that watching the Fox News Channel (at its current ideological positioning) for four additional minutes per week increases the probability of intending to vote for the Republican presidential candidate by 0.9 percentage points for voters induced into watching by variation in channel position.

MSNBC has the same affect, but less so. CNN causes people to move ever-so-slightly to the right.

It’s always been tricky to figure out when slanted media influences viewers ideologically versus when viewers simply watch the station that reflects their own bias. As the Washington Post explains:

To solve this riddle, the researchers, Emory University’s Gregory Martin and Stanford University’s Ali Yurukoglu, took advantage of a surprising pattern among cable subscribers: People are more likely to watch any station with a lower channel number.

By determining the amount of increased viewing that was based simply on the local station numbers of the three major news networks, Martin and Yurukoglu were able to isolate viewing that took place for reasons having nothing to do with ideology.

Their finding are pretty startling — comparable to major demographic factors such as race and geography:

[T]he estimated effect of one hour of Fox News is just under one-half of the effect of being black on voting Republican, and about equal to the difference in dummy coefficients for residence in Ohio versus residence in Massachusetts.

Martin and Yurukoglu even intimate that Fox swung at least one very close and fateful presidential election.

We estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the average county’s Republican vote share by 1.6 percentage points

Now, don’t get all paranoid conservatives. Nobody’s suggested “removing Fox News from cable television.” But, the researchers note,

if consuming news with a slant alters the consumer’s ideology, then public policy towards the news media sector becomes more complex. In particular, if news consumption alters ideology, and consumers have a taste for like-minded news, then the existence of slanted news could lead to a polarizing feedback loop: an “echo chamber” where partisans can reinforce and strengthen their initial biases. Furthermore, an interested party could potentially influence the political process by owning or controlling media outlets.

Perish the thought!

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