Blog post

Fox News is not helping Republicans

New political science research demonstrates how partisan media consumption can affect what citizens know about politics, government and public affairs. I highly recommend an article by Matt Yglesias here at Bloomberg Opinion explaining it. But I worry less about how these media affect citizens than about how they can affect – in fact, have affected – a political party. been important. And damaging. Political parties in the United States are made up of a wide variety of party actors, including politicians, campaign and governance professionals, official party officials and staff, donors and activists, partisan interest groups and partisan media. What almost all of them have in common are strong incentives for their party to win elections. This is a good thing. Democracies work – in the sense of providing good public policy – ​​largely because parties want to win elections and therefore try to please voters. So we want parties to be dominated by those who care about electoral incentives, even if that’s not the only thing that motivates them. So: Politicians care about winning elections because their careers depend on it. They can care about a lot of other things, even enough to risk elections sometimes for them, but if they care too much they will be gone before too long and replaced by someone who cares about winning. Campaign professionals — pollsters, media specialists, campaign managers, etc. – care about winning because it advances their careers. They can also be strong supporters or care deeply about public policy, but the bottom line is that if they work for losing campaigns, they won’t stick around long. Likewise, government professionals need the party to win in order for them to do what they were trained to do – run agencies, work on legislative staff and all other parts of government that are not run by civil servants. . officials usually care about winning for the same reason campaign professionals do: it’s good for their careers. As organizations, official parties (that is, groups such as the Texas Republican Party or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) have various reasons for wanting to win elections. This usually gives them larger budgets, higher party status, and perhaps other benefits enjoyed by those close to elected officials. Party-aligned activists, donors, and interest groups all tend to want certain political outcomes, and without winning elections they cannot achieve those goals. Each of these groups tends to oscillate between purism and pragmatism – between caring so much about representing political goals that they are willing to sacrifice elections to run for them, and caring so much about elections that they are willing to abandon any policy that might threaten to win. But most activists, donors, and even the most tokenized interest groups still have at least some interest in implementing their political goals. As for those in the party-aligned media? It’s not just that they have no financial or professional interest in the party winning the election. It’s that their incentives work the other way around. In a familiar pattern, since Joe Biden became president, Fox News ratings are up and MSNBC ratings are down. Negative partisanship is crucial for media consumption; nothing incites supporters to pay attention to new policies more than a strong dislike of the president and other elected officials. And while I doubt Sean Hannity (at Fox) or Rachel Maddow (at MSNBC) actively want their parties to lose, the fact that professional incentives justly call it can only make a difference in what these networks do in the together. is generally true for any American party. What is different about contemporary Republicans is that party-aligned media have become extremely important within their party. On the one hand, it’s far more successful than the Democratic-aligned media. The effects of 50 or more years of Republicans successfully demonizing neutral media could also play a role. But whatever the reason, it’s simply that Republican-aligned media have disproportionate influence within the party. The results are exactly what one would expect. Republicans do well for the most part in elections as an out-of-party, because when an incumbent is on the ballot, an election is all about whether they are doing a good job. Without an incentive to win elections, elected Republicans increasingly have no reason to try to make voters happy (or more accurately: politicians have that incentive, but the party as a whole doesn’t and That is what matters). As a result, their ability to advance public policy atrophies, and ultimately they lose interest in nominating candidates who are equipped to govern – or even interested in doing so. Increasingly, the party is driven by what their media cares about: finding the things that most engage their most loyal audience and repeating them as much as possible.