A provocative new study by Gregory J. Martin and Ali Yurukoglu of Stanford University purports to investigate whether citizens' voting tendencies are affected by what they view on the cable TV stations- mainly FOX and MSNBC. One curious finding from the work is that what people watch depends on the channel position in the cable or satellite line-up. (People are more likely to watch stations in the lower positions, e.g. 12- 40, than higher, 200-360).
In this regard both FOX and MSNBC have sometimes received advantageous channel positions, though here in the Springs, FOX is at 360 and MSNBC at 356. Anyway, given this odd preference by channel position, Martin and Yurukooglu explored the relationships among channel positions across county -level presidential vote shares, intended votes and individual viewing habits. With several large data sets they then tested the effects of watching Fox News and MSNBC.
One preliminary finding is that the respective stations have grown more ideologically defined. Eleven to twelve years ago a typical Democrat was no more likely than a typical Republican to watch FOX. By 2008, a typical Democrat was 20 percentage points more likely to watch MSNBC. In 2004, a Republican was only 11 points more likely than a Dem to watch FOX but that expanded to 30 pts. by 2008.
These findings are not too surprising given the background. By the middle of 2008, most liberals had had their full of the Bushies and looked for some respite or "salvation" - some voice that echoed their own principles, ideals for the country. Many of us found that voice in Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" which pulled no punches in nailing the Bushie butts to the wall - whether on the concocted Iraq invasion, or how Cheney and Bush hocked the country to their oil pals like Halliburton, as well as set the stage for economic perdition via successive tax cuts.
More interesting in the Stanford study is that the authors found both FOX and MSNBC have real effects on the way people vote. Basically, for those who opt to watch FOX ( say because of channel position) just four additional minutes of weekly viewing increases the probability of voting for the Republican candidate by 0.9 percent. Meanwhile, for those who watch MSNBC, four such additional minutes decreases the probability of voting for the Repub candidate by about 0.7 percentage points.
With one hour of viewing per week (about what I have with MSNBC) the effects are greater. Thus, this increment with respect to viewing MSNBC decreased the probability of voting Republican by 3.6 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, watching FOX for an hour in 2008 increased the probability of voting Republican by 3.5 points.
It was pointed out that while the difference may not seem large at the individual level, the effects are significant across the U.S. To fix ideas, the researchers estimate that if there had been no FOX News in 2004 and 2008, the Republican vote share would have been 4 points lower. Similarly, if MSNBC had been more "moderate" - like CNN - the Republican share of votes would have been 3 points higher. (FOX evidently has more success in "converting" voters than MSNBC does.)
The claim then is that viewing habits, in terms of political content of stations, has a major influence on voting preferences.
To which I say, balderdash. Let me rephrase that: If a person's vote is determined by watching anything based on pundits' opinions on TV , s/he is an uninformed moron. I voted liberal long before MSNBC ever existed and the reason is that I have always adhered to liberal principles. These are established in the process of mental maturity, and then articulated based on one's own experience and education. This helps to formulate what one considers to be critically important for the nation's general welfare. These include:
1) Taxes are of BENEFIT to society and increased taxes are GOOD not bad for the nation!
2) Environmental threats, including climate change, must be confronted – not dodged!
3) Wars (or invasions) must never be launched under false pretexts.
4) Recognition that the National Security state as it is presently configured is inimical to constitutional rights.
5) Economic inequality must be fought as it is the primary agent that destroys societies.
In other words, the Stanford finding - for what it's worth - is more about the lack of citizens' education and experience enabling them to forge an authentic political identity. The converse, a political identity confected by watching TV must always be bogus, inauthentic.
If this finding is true, and the effects of partisan TV viewing are reinforced over time, this country is in serious trouble.