The media is often referred to as the fourth branch of government, or the “fourth power”, due to its high level of influence. While they do not approve or reject legislation or public policy issues, they can affect the outcome of debates and decisions because their coverage affects those who make those decisions. A recent study by Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, PhD '17, Mathew A. Baum, and Teppei Yamamoto aimed to analyze the impact of media on public opinion.
The study consisted of experiments and surveys that divided viewers according to media consumption preferences, ideology, and more. This approach, called choice-and-assignment design that incorporates preferences (PICA), allowed researchers to understand the cause-and-effect issues surrounding media consumption. The results showed that people who chose to read materials from partisan news channels were less influenced by the content than those who were assigned to observe one of the three. Quantitatively, a single exposure to partisan media can change the opinions of relatively apolitical citizens by an amount equivalent to one-third of the average ideological divide that exists between partisans on the right and left sides of the political spectrum.
The professor of Political Science and director of the Fundamentals of Behavior Laboratory at Temple University, states that the study “represents an important methodological advance in the study of the effects of media. Arceneaux suggests that further research on the effects of “anti-attitudinal and partisan” information content that argues against consumer beliefs would shed more light on the dynamics of media influence. The findings suggest that while partisan cable news has a smaller impact on people who choose to watch it, it does exist. It is also important to note that any increase in viewership experienced by partisan media outlets can produce relatively greater influence due to the reluctance of most Americans to consume partisan media.
This means that it is important for Orange County citizens to be aware of how media can shape their opinions on politics.