How does partisan media bias impact anything?
Partisan media bias impacts us in five major ways: political extremism, emphasis in partisanship, demand for more partisan media, misinformed voting, and contribution to gridlock.
When audiences have already shifted away from the political center, media with strong partisan biases polarize them even further by making them more extreme. Proattitudinal media that reinforces a consumer’s existing beliefs can act as an echo chamber, allowing the consumer to uncritically accept the messages presented to them. This combined with a lack of counterarguments positions the consumer to continue accepting more extreme ideas over time.1
By framing information through a partisan lens, topics of discussion are inherently connected to political parties and their positions. This activates consumers’ partisanship, forcing them to question how social issues align with their political affiliations rather than what it is, why it happens, how it happens, who it happens to, and when it happens. Consumers then start reaching conclusions in line with their partisanship before even knowing any specifics about a topic.2
DEMAND FOR MORE
A large number of people no longer watch the news for information, but rather for opinion and entertainment. The scandals, violence, crime, foibles of celebrities, and antics of the powerful draw in viewers, and they stay to have their beliefs confirmed by more articulate, authoritative, and prestigious reporters. Rather than viewers making decisions based off of the media, the media is now making decisions based off of viewers. Cable news puts out sensationalized and biased material to draw in an audience, the audience wants to continue watching sensationalized and biased material for entertainment, and cable news continues to broadcast sensationalized and biased material due to the demand of their consumers; partisan media has created a feedback loop for even more partisan media.3
When getting information from a source with partisan bias, the information surrounding a topic will inherently be incomplete. Liberal sources will focus in on the negatives surrounding conservative politics, and likewise conservative sources will focus in on the negatives surrounding liberal politics. This leaves both sides lacking the negatives associated with their own side and the positives regarding the opposition, leaving viewers and future voters with a one-sided analysis. In a scenario where the average voter would have voted for a different candidate had they had complete information regarding all candidates, it would result in an electoral mistake.4
Voters that become more politically extreme have the potential to pressure those in office to claim more extreme positions and thus propose more extreme policy. As a result, the government can become gridlocked, preventing cooperation between the two parties even more. This becomes another feedback loop where voters become even more polarized due to the lack of legislation, once again encouraging more extreme candidates with more extreme policy to put the government in gridlock once more.5
1Levendusky, Matthew S. “Why Do Partisan Media Polarize Viewers?” American journal of political science, Volume 57(3), February 2013 611-623.
2Hall Jamieson, Kathleen and Carlos Maza. “Why you still don’t understand the Green New Deal.” YouTube, uploaded by Vox, 11 March 2019.
3Bernhardt, Dan et al. “Political polarization and the electoral effects of media bias.” Journal of Public Economics, Volume 92, June 2008, pg. 1094.