Matthew A. Baum

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The Oprah Effect: How Soft News Helps Inattentive Citizens Vote Consistently

Do the news media provide voters with sufficient information to function as competent democratic citizens? Many have answered “no,” citing as evidence the proliferation of entertainment-oriented “soft news.” Yet, public affairsoriented “hard” news is often unappealing to politically inattentive individuals. We argue that news “quality” depends upon how well it enables citizens to determine which candidate best fits their own preferences. In this regard, for politically inattentive citizens, we argue that soft news is more efficient than traditional hard news. Drawing on the logic of low-information rationality, we derive a series of hypotheses, which we test using the 2000 National Election Study.We find that politically inattentive individuals who consumed daytime talk shows (a popular form of soft news) were more likely than their nonconsuming, inattentive counterparts to vote for the candidate who best represented their self-described preferences. This suggests soft news can facilitate voting “competence” among at least some citizens.

 

Slate.com editor-at-large Jack Shafer wrote an article about this study, You can find it here. "UCLA Today" also did a feature story on the study, which you can find here.

You can download this paper, in pdf format, here.

(Note: This is an electronic version of an article published in Journal of Politics. Complete citation information for the final version of the paper, as published in the print edition of Journal of Politics, is available on the Blackwell Synergy online delivery service, accessible via the journal's website at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com.)

A supplemental appendix for this paper, including expert survey questionnaire, NES variable definitions and coding, additional discussion of several concepts addressed in the paper, as well as a variety of robustness, reliability and validity tests, is available, in pdf format, here.

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