Friday, February 08, 2019

Research shows closure of local newspapers leads to more straight-ticket voting and political polarization

Communities that have lost their local newspaper become slightly more polarized politically, and often have less influence with their state and national elected officials, according to a recently published study in the Journal of Communication.

"As local newspapers close, Americans rely more heavily on available national news or partisan heuristics [sometimes defined as "mental shortcuts"] to make political decisions," write the researchers: Joshua Darr of Louisiana State University, Matthew Hitt of Colorado State University and Johanna Dunaway of Texas A&M University.

Their study used genetic-matching techniques to compare statistically similar counties. It found the closure of a local paper caused "a small but significant" decrease of 1.9 percent in split-ticket voting in presidential and senatorial elections.

"Evidence of increasing political polarization of the public is shown by this and other studies, and one contributing factor is that voters without local news options are more likely than usual to vote on the basis of party identification alone," Elena Watts writes for The Daily Yonder. "Concurrently, the void left by defunct local newspapers creates opportunities for political parties to employ tactics that help replace objective sources of information with their highly polarized perspectives."

Watts explains why newspaperless communities may lose influence: "National media outlets cover legislative leaders in terms of whether they support or oppose their respective political party ideologies. So, as national media dominance increases, and with it, political polarization, legislators have more incentive to respond to the needs and preferences of their political parties than to those of their districts . . . Legislators already often consider how national media will portray their actions and responses more than they consider how their constituents will receive them. Therefore, residents of counties without sources of local news are losing influence with their legislators because of the increasing political polarization, likely brought about, at least in part, by growing national media influences."

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