Local Newspaper Closures Polarize Voters, Choke Political Progress

Residents are less informed, less engaged in their communities and less influential with their legislators in cities where polarized national news sources are replacing shuttered local newspapers.
23-Jan-2019 10:05 AM EST, by Texas A&M University

Newswise — As local newspapers shutter across the country, the residents residing in those counties without sources of local news are forced to rely more heavily on national media outlets that report political news primarily through the lens of the perennial two-party political conflict.

A study that was published in the Journal of Communication reveals that these communities are becoming increasingly polarized politically, which has broad implications for both voters and legislators.

“Residents of cities without sources of local news are losing their ability to hold their political representatives accountable in ways that encourage ethical and effective representation,” said Johanna Dunaway, professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M. “And the more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government.”

With Joshua Darr, professor of communication at Louisiana State University, and Matthew Hitt, professor of political science at Colorado State University, Dunaway conducted the study that finds local newspaper closures are helping to polarize voters by contributing to increases in straight-ticket, party-line voting in those counties where they shuttered. Their study, “Newspaper Closures Polarize Voting Behavior,” also explores the implications of those findings.

Evidence of increasing political polarization of the public is shown by this and other studies, and one contributing factor is that voters without local news options are more likely than usual to vote on the basis of party identification alone. Concurrently, the void left by defunct local newspapers creates opportunities for political parties to employ tactics that help replace objective sources of information with their highly polarized perspectives. 

Are the days of crossing party lines at the local level over?

Historically, voters have recognized that many local issues fall outside political party ideology, and they have crossed party lines in local elections when their legislators were achieving positive results for their communities. The legislators cultivated this personal vote by granting interviews and sending press releases to their local newspapers to inform their constituents of their achievements. They made their re-election appeals and claims of credit in their local media markets, and their local reporters held them accountable by covering how well they served their districts, Dunaway said. 

Without local newspapers, communities lose the venue where legislators cultivate the personal vote and journalists hold public servants accountable in ways that encourage good representation. Residents of these communities are forced to rely more on national news outlets that only have the resources, at best, to comprehensively cover national governmental institutions and their leadership.

National coverage of other members of the U.S. Congress typically is limited to occasions when they behave as mavericks, engage in scandalous behavior, say something outrageous or become the targets of outrageous accusations, Dunaway said. The politicians at the state and local levels generally do not appear on the radars of national news outlets at all.

Voters without local newspapers are less influential with their legislators

Catering to the national market, national media outlets cover legislative leaders in terms of whether they support or oppose their respective political party ideologies. So, as national media dominance increases, and with it, political polarization, legislators have more incentive to respond to the needs and preferences of their political parties than to those of their districts, leaving their constituents to pay the price when those interests are in opposition.

And the reality is that these legislators already often consider how national media will portray their actions and responses more than they consider how their constituents will receive them. Therefore, residents of counties without sources of local news are losing influence with their legislators because of the increasing political polarization, likely brought about, at least in part, by growing national media influences.

Growing political polarization diminishes effectiveness of legislators

Political polarization also hampers the ability of legislators to compromise, which encourages legislative gridlock and makes achievements of any kind, whether for political parties or districts, more unobtainable, which is the scenario currently playing out in Congress. The legislators shift their focus away from the common ground found in regional needs and become more beholden to the polarized national agenda, which diminishes their effectiveness as representatives.

“Replacing local media with national alternatives and the resulting increase in political polarization has broad implications for everyone,” Dunaway said. “If the information we get about politics is reduced to national party politics, the local issues that affect us most will be neglected by voters and politicians alike.”

Dunaway and the other researchers examined split-ticket voting in statistically similar counties as an indicator of either adherence to or departure from hardline political party ideology. They found a 1.9 percent drop in split-ticket voting in presidential and senatorial elections in counties where local newspapers closed. In elections research, where fluctuations of 1 percent are considered substantial, this difference is dramatic.

SEE ORIGINAL STUDY

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 6051
Newswise: COVID-19 update: coping with increased cases, breakthrough infections, national masking mandates and vaccine requirements
Released: 29-Jul-2021 4:05 PM EDT
COVID-19 update: coping with increased cases, breakthrough infections, national masking mandates and vaccine requirements
Keck Medicine of USC

Keck Medicine of USC experts speak out on the continued physical and emotional consequences of COVID-19

Newswise: Federal Government Commitment Necessary to Protect Voting Rights for Historically Marginalized People, Fraga Testifies
Released: 29-Jul-2021 3:55 PM EDT
Federal Government Commitment Necessary to Protect Voting Rights for Historically Marginalized People, Fraga Testifies
University of Notre Dame

On July 27, Luis Fraga, the Rev. Donald P. McNeill, C.S.C., Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership at the University of Notre Dame, testified via Zoom at the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing on “The Need to Enhance the Voting Rights Act: Practice-Based Coverage.”

Released: 27-Jul-2021 12:05 PM EDT
Government Law Center Releases New Explainer on NY Redistricting
Albany Law School

The Government Law Center at Albany Law School has just released its latest explainer to help attorneys, politicians, and the public at large understand the complexities of New York’s redistricting process.

Released: 26-Jul-2021 12:40 PM EDT
GW Politics Poll Finds Varying Confidence in State and Local Elections
George Washington University

Democratic voters continue to have more faith in state and local elections than Republicans, according to new data from the George Washington University Politics Poll.

Newswise: Radiation Oncologists Urge Congress to Reverse Proposed CMS Cuts and Create More Equity in Access to Cancer Treatments
Released: 26-Jul-2021 11:30 AM EDT
Radiation Oncologists Urge Congress to Reverse Proposed CMS Cuts and Create More Equity in Access to Cancer Treatments
American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO)

A record number of radiation oncologists met with Congressional leaders and staff last week as part of the largest American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Advocacy Day in the Society's history. The physicians urged Congressional leaders to intervene in response to consecutive Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposals that call for significant cuts to radiation oncology facilities.

Newswise:Video Embedded newswise-expert-panels-on-covid-19-pandemic-notable-excerpts-quotes-and-videos-available
VIDEO
Released: 26-Jul-2021 10:00 AM EDT
Newswise Expert Panels on COVID-19 Pandemic: Notable excerpts, quotes and videos available
Newswise

Newswise is hosting a series of Expert Panels discussion on unique aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This tip sheet includes some notable quotes from the panelists.

22-Jul-2021 8:00 AM EDT
National Poll: Parents Split on Whether to Vaccinate Younger Kids Against COVID
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Many parents are missing opportunities to discuss questions and concerns about the COVID vaccine for kids with a doctor.

Released: 20-Jul-2021 4:30 PM EDT
Small-Scale Worker Resistance Impacts Food Delivery Economy in China
Cornell University

Research from Cornell University has revealed a new form of bargaining power among Chinese platform-based food delivery workers, who conduct invisible mini-strikes by logging out of apps and airing grievances over.


Showing results

110 of 6051

close
1.38322