Friday, January 23, 2015

Decline in papers' coverage of congressional races has left readers less informed, less likely to vote

A decline in local coverage of congressional races  in recent years has led citizens to be less informed about federal issues and less likely to become engaged in those issues, says a study by researchers at George Washington University and American University in Washington, D.C., GWU political-science professor Danny Hayes writes for The Washington Post.

"Our analysis, based on a large-scale study of local coverage and citizen behavior in every congressional district across the country, demonstrates that the fading of two-newspaper towns is not the only problem," Hayes reports. "When the content of local news deteriorates—as has happened nationwide in an era of newsroom austerity—so do citizen knowledge and participation."

Researchers looked at the newspaper with the largest circulation in each congressional district, examining the number of stories about House races in the month leading up to the November 2014 election, Hayes writes. Of the 6,000 stories analyzed, researchers said that the most competitive races received the most coverage, while races thought to be less competitive received little coverage.

"When we merge our newspaper data with survey data from the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we find that voters in districts with less news coverage know less about the candidates running for the House," Hayes writes. "For instance, as the volume of news coverage declines, citizens are less able to identify candidates as liberals or conservatives. They are also less likely to say that they will cast a ballot in the House contest. We find that this is true not only for the least politically engaged voters but also those who are typically more attentive to politics. Where the news environment is impoverished, engagement is diminished for all citizens." (Read more)

"It's not surprising that there is less news coverage of House races in newspapers, because most papers have reduced staff, but there could be another reason," says University of Kentucky journalism professor Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. "As partisan redistricting has reduced the number of competitive districts and competitive races, that has probably resulted in less coverage."

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