Study: Fox News Propaganda Powerful Enough To Influence Elections

If you are reading this, it’s pretty safe to say you aren’t a fan of Fox News.

Chances are, though, you know someone who is.

Perhaps you’ve even had to argue pesky facts with this person to counter something she or he accepts from “America’s only fair and balanced news source” without hesitation or evidence.

And you may have wondered at some point what it is about Fox that is so appealing.

Why is it avid Fox viewers are so vehemently opposed to the other “liberal” media outlets? Why are Fox viewers so tribal? It’s almost as if they’re in a cult.

A new study in the American Economic Review explains how influential the right-leaning network is in influencing how its audience interprets news. It is so influential, in fact, Fox actually has the ability to change viewers’ minds and sway election results.

According to Emory and Stanford university researchers Gregory J. Martin and Ali Yurukoglu, watching just three minutes of Fox News coverage per week made Democratic and centrist voters one percent more likely to vote Republican in the 2008 election between former President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

If Fox News hadn’t existed during the 2004 election, former President George W. Bush would have fallen four percentage points below his opponent, former Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who would have emerged with the popular vote. In 2008, Barack Obama would have won in a landslide with 60 percent of the vote, and John McCain winning 6.34 percent fewer votes.

Moreover, while profit drives most corporate media outlets, Fox doesn’t seem to care about the money. Its raison d’être apparently rests in its ability to shift its viewership to the right.

According to Vox:

Fox isn’t setting its ideology where it ought to, to maximize its viewership. It’s much more conservative than is optimal from that perspective. But it’s pretty close to the slant that would maximize its persuasive power—that would result in the largest rightward movement among viewers. CNN, by contrast, matched its political stances pretty closely to the viewer-maximizing point, showing less interest in operating as a political agent.”

The authors of the study state:

Fox is substantially better at influencing Democrats than MSNBC is at influencing Republicans…consistently more effective at converting viewers than is MSNBC which has corresponding estimated persuasion rates of just 16 percent, 0 percent, and 8 percent.”

In the 2000 election between George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore, Fox was able to convince 58 percent of Democratic viewers to vote for Bush, and persuaded significant minorities of Democrats to vote Republican in the following two election cycles.

MSNBC could not produce the same effect on conservative viewers in the same elections.

Martin and Yurukoglu’s findings confirm earlier research, including a 2007 Berkeley report “The Fox News Effect: Media Bias And Voting,” which states:

“A significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000…Fox News convinced 3 to 28 percent of its viewers to vote Republican.”

There is also Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind survey, which reports watching only Fox News leaves audiences less informed than consuming no news at all.

The most recent research confirms what many Fox News critics already suspected about its concerted push toward conservative ideals and Republican agendas since its inception in 1996, serving as a tool to push viewers to more GOP-friendly stances.

The study did not analyze Fox‘s impact on the 2016 election. But according to a January Pew Research poll, Fox News was the source for most voters–40 percent–who eventually voted for President Donald Trump.

In May, former Fox News contributor Tobin Smith came forward with stories about how Fox fools viewers with panel discussions rigged and scripted to favor conservatives.

He described the strategy as follows:

“More often than not, in my panel segments I was the protagonist or ‘designated hit man,’ aka the one called on by the host (as instructed by the producers in my ear or the ear of the host) to ‘kill ‘em.’ You’d know I was the designated hit man when the panel show hosts tossed the final death blow 15–20 seconds to me when they say ‘Toby, you have the final word.’ But before I delivered the final rhetorical death blow …the producer of the segment had given me my script 24 hours BEFORE the show started. I knew 24–48 hours in ADVANCE of how the designated liberal was going to argue his/her point…and more important how I was going to win.”

According to Smith, Fox News doesn’t hire “weak liberals,” as Fox reporters often characterize them; it sabotages liberal panelists through scripted arguments against liberals and progressives so the conservative going up against them always wins. If a Fox contributor drifts from his or her script, she or he is not invited back.

Little by little, the sheen is coming off Fox. 

Beware, though: when Fox is gone, another will likely supplant it.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.