Study: Losing local newspapers leads to more polarized voting

by | Feb 13, 2019 | Blog, What We're Reading

When local newspapers close, people turn to national news sources, which focus more on inter-party conflict and provide a simplified view of political issues.

Newspaper Closures Polarize Voting Behavior
Journal of Communication
By Joshua P. Darr, Matthew P. Hitt and Johanna L. Dunaway
Nov. 5, 2018

What happens when local newspapers close down? According to a new study in Oxford’s Journal of Communication, it makes “Americans rely more heavily on available national news or partisan heuristics to make political decisions.”

Researchers from Louisiana State University, Colorado State University and Texas A&M University System found in the absence of local news, voters will rely on national news, leading to political polarization. Why? National news doesn’t educate its viewers on their local representatives, and voters then turn out at lower rates. When they do, these readers tend to vote straight-ticket rather than split-ticket.

Their research found that the magnitude of the effect a newspaper closure had on president-Senate split ticket voting was 1.9 percent, a significantly larger find than numbers found in previous studies of changes in local media.
The study also identified two reasons behind the correlation between reliance on national news in the absence of local news and political polarization.

First, national news outlets mainly cover national issues and politicians, which may make national audiences think of politics as a series of conflicts between the two major parties. Second, national news outlets are deeply polarized and prone to sensationalism. The study argues that local news is a valuable alternative form of national media because it allows voters to develop their personal voting patterns across party lines.

Study Details

  • Researchers examined patterns of polarized voting in counties because the median newspaper sells more than 80 percent of its copies in its home county, researchers said
  • They used nationwide data from the “Chronicling America” project to learn about newspaper closures from 2009-2012. Their sample examined 110 newspaper closures.