I thought viewers watched Fox News to confirm their biases. Apparently the effect is subtler: Fox News makes viewers more conservative, according to a study conducted by the American Economic review.
The effects of CNN and MSNBC on centrist voters are mostly negligible; MSNBC, in 2000 and 2004, modestly increased odds of voting Republican, before it turned left in time for 2008. But Fox News increases Republican voting odds for centrists, for Democratic viewers, and even, in 2004 and 2008, for Republicans already strongly inclined to vote that way. Watching three minutes more of Fox News per week in 2008 would have made the typical Democratic or centrist voter 1 percentage point likelier to vote Republican that year.
“Fox is substantially better at influencing Democrats than MSNBC is at influencing Republicans,” the authors find. While most Fox viewers are Republican, a sizable minority aren’t, and they’re particularly suggestible to the channel’s influence. In 2000, they estimate that 58 percent of Fox viewers who were initially Democrats changed to supporting the Republican candidate by the end of the election cycle; in 2004, the persuasion rate was 27 percent, and 28 percent in 2008. MSNBC, by contrast, only persuaded 8 percent of initial Republicans to vote Democratic in the 2008 cycle.
I suppose I can take comfort in the decreasing percentage of persuadable Democrats, but I suspect this phenomenon is due to the shrinking number of swing voters. The onslaught of disinformation, distortions, misplaced points of emphasis, and lies on a typical Fox news segment creates an alternative reality in which conservative voters assume the worst of illegal immigrants because the guvmint is gonna give them Obama phones, or conclude, as a Bret Baier piece yesterday did, that Lois Lerner should be wearing prison black.
Other than coverage of protests, MSNBC does no comparable job of shifting attention to the concentration of wealth, the perils of overpopulation, climate change, and racial inequality; Chris Hayes can’t anchor every panel. From Joy Reid and Laurence O’Donnell to Al Sharpton, its commentators offer warm milk to mild Democrats drawn to political personages to whom these Dems assign the thinking. Hell, MSNBC can’t even get a proper news division, and when producers need a time slot filled they turn to bastions of liberalism such as Hugh Hewitt and Nicole Wallace. As soon as Fox News hires David Axelrod, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Dean as guest commentators I’ll give the channel a second look.