Watching just three minutes of Fox News can cause a substantial rightward shift in the average viewer’s political attitude, according to a study by Emory and Stanford University researchers conducted earlier this year.
Political scientists Gregory Martin and Ali Yurukoglu found that watching only three minutes of Fox News can make the average democratic voter 1 percent more likely to vote republican. They estimate that if Fox News never existed, John Kerry would’ve been the popular vote winner in the 2004 election, and Barack Obama would’ve captured 60 percent of the popular vote in 2008, as opposed to just 52 percent.
The study, published in the American Economic Review in September 2017, finds that other mainstream news outlets, such as CNN and MSNBC, are much less efficient at shaping viewer’s opinions than Fox News. Martin and Yurukoglu say that, while Fox News persuaded almost 58 percent of Democratic viewers to vote for George W. Bush in 2000, MSNBC had nowhere near this effect on conservative viewers.
The research confirms what media watchdogs such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and Media Matters have been saying for years: that Fox News is merely a GOP tool to shift viewers to the right and swing elections.
However, actual Fox News viewers disagree with this conclusion.
“On the question of actually presenting the opposing point of view, Fox does best,” says Taylor Stephens from Jersey City, New Jersey. “They keep opinions in the opinion section.”
Some Fox News viewers agree that there is a conservative slant, but prefer it to an unbiased or liberal viewpoint.
“I like the conservative bias. It is the only conservative news network I can find, and I am conservative. I know this will get hate in this liberal world, but I don’t care,” says Ryan Duncan from Hyattsville, Maryland.
I like the conservative bias
Fox News Channel was launched in 1996 by media mogul Rupert Murdoch and CEO Roger Ailes. The channel averages 1.72 million total viewers, according to Nielsen, and has been the most-watched cable news network for 15 years. It is also the most trusted news source in the country according to a poll conducted by Suffolk University and USA Today.
The Martin-Yorukoglu study confirms earlier research done after Fox was introduced in 1996. A report from UC-Berkeley found that “a significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000…Fox News convinced 3-28 percent of its viewers to vote Republican.”
Similar studies on Fox News have found that it is often the primary news source for Republicans. A 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 47 percent of conservative respondents listed Fox News as their primary source “for news about government and politics.” Liberals, by comparison, were much more fragmented, with 15 percent choosing CNN as their primary news source, 13 percent choosing NPR and 12 percent choosing MSNBC. Another study from University of Texas professor Natalie Jomini Stroud finds that “conservatives allege and perceive media bias more often than liberals.”
While academic research into media basis has found mixed results, political scientists Matt Grossman and Dave Hopkins say that “Democrats understate conservatives’ legitimate aversion to trusting mainstream media institutions often disproportionately staffed by non-conservatives to fairly adjudicate information on the public’s behalf.” While Democrats don’t prefer biased media, they say, the mainstream media they do consume “implicitly flatters the Democratic worldview.”