The Fox News Effect

By: Raziel Galarza (raziel.galarza@upr.edu)

Throughout history people have relied on network television and printed journalism as their main source for political news. But, with the arrival of cable television, radio, social media and the Internet, other forms of mass media have become the main source for political news. According to a research done in the Pew Center for the People and for the Press in 2010, in 1991, 68% of Americans relied on network newscasts, while 56% read at least one newspaper daily.

The research was done once again in 2010, the percentages dropping to 58% and 31%, respectively. Another difference apart from the numbers is also the content options presented in the news. This is due to the abandoning the more ‘objective’ standard to follow in a more ideological point of view. Now following these statements, this is where Fox News comes into the scene. 

Fox News is known as a conservative news program, therefore most of its journalists, contributors, and frequent guests have right-leaning perspectives with regards to political ideals. Before its existence, there were little to none existent conservative leaning news coverage in the media, thus leading to a change in the industry. The big media outlets prior to Fox News were CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC (now MSNBC), all which lean to the political left. Now, having presented this information, the main objective is to try and find if Fox News holds an influence over the mainstream media. 

 Before further analyzing the media effect, a look must be taken into Fox News’ history to better comprehend the situation. Fox News first aired in October 7, 1996 under Rupert Murdoch to create a news channel to compete with the coverage over at CNN. Murdoch enlisted the former Republican political consultant, Roger Ailes (1940-2017), who served as the channel’s president from its founding until 2016. In its debut, anchors such as Neil Cavuto and Tony Snow. 

Other programs under Fox News that became its trademark were those of Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, etc. To contrast itself from the liberal bias, Fox News billed itself as “the fair and balanced”, as well as under the slogans: “We report. You decide.”

From a political perspective, according to the study in The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting, 37.5% of Fox News audience identify as Republican, 29.4% as Democrat, and the rest as Independent. This already establishes the favor the news network holds with the Republican Party (GOP). To further support this evidence, in the same study, the number of non-Fox News audience that align with the Republican Party is 26.2%, while those who identify as Democrat, exceed the percentage by a 6% increase, 32.4%. What this proves is that viewers of Fox News are far more likely to align with the GOP than the Democratic Party. The audience data used was from 2000, the possible explanations for this could be Republicans establishing themselves in the Fox News network or persuasion upon being exposed to the network. 

Now that it is clear that a majority of the audience of Fox News leans towards the GOP, is there a correlation that leads to an increase vote for the aforementioned party? According to a well-known study by DellaVigna and Kaplan (2007), during the 1996-2000 presidential election, towns with access to Fox News saw a .4 to .7 percentage point increase in Republican presidential voting. By 2000, Fox News was accessible to only 35% of households, which means the percentage points estimated of .15 to .2, around 200,000 votes. Following the study, it has also been found that towns where Fox News can be seen that there is a 1.2 percentage in being pro-Bush, however, when it comes to simulations the number reach less than 0 in 20%. 

A comparison was drawn between towns that offer Fox News in their programming and those who do not offer it show off a few of interesting results. Firstly, towns that include Fox News in its programming have a larger number of channels as well (44.5 vs 24.7) and they are 25% larger. Secondly, the cable companies that offered Fox News had three times the ability to reach more people. Lastly, the area was far more likely in urban areas. Also included in this comparison is the increase for Republican votes in the towns including Fox News, which is 5.9 in percentage points (from 47.9 to 53.8) between the years 1996 and 2000. However, the towns’ sizes, their voting via demographic compositions, geographical areas and cable markets are not included. 

Fox News is the only cable news to have been able to maintain its audience size, and this can be attributed to the increasing numbers of Republicans who on regular obtain their news from the network. It is 40% of Republicans who say that it is from Fox News where they obtain their news (2010), which increased from 36% from two years prior (2008), and increasing from 18% (2000).

In contrast, the number of Democrats who regularly watched Fox News decreased as of 2008. Another point to include are the reasons for its regular viewers to tune into Fox News. A 44% mentioned that their motive to tune into Fox News is to get the latest news, while a small number, 22%, volunteer additional reasons or that all apply.  

Once again, in the times we find ourselves, ideology is a key component to the association of the people’s choice to the source of information they rely. An 80% of people who regularly listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch Sean Hannity are conservative, a number roughly double the national average of 36%. When talking about newer audiences, it will vary on the opinions they hold in current issues and topics. For instance, people who called themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement, supporters of the NRA, compose a disproportionately large portion of the Fox News audience. 

As of 2019, Fox News is the #1 in cable ratings as it reached 2.57 million viewers utilizing Live +7 Nielsen ratings. For a fourth year in a row, Fox News is the top-rated basic cable network among total viewers. The network had also reported its highest-rated primetime in history with an average of 2.5 million viewers. Additionally, the program Hannity was the top-rated program for a third year in a row in cable news with 3.3 million viewers.

 In conclusion, an argument can be made that Fox News does indeed have an effect on its audience, though it is quite minimal. The reason for minimal is because its audience already to what the program appeals to; therefore, if someone does not wish to tune into the channel they are free to change it. Or, if they do not agree with the ideals Fox News holds they can change it to a news program which does.

On a personal level, I believe Fox News as a more credible source in today’s era. Not only from a conservative perspective, but from the fact that in comparison to other media outlets such as MSNBC and CNN, they seem more objective. For example, during the impeachment trial of President Trump, all the leftist media seemed to align in calling already-known information as ‘bombshell’ or ‘Trump’s Katrina’. Phrases repeated time after time until the case went nowhere, and suddenly then silenced. Another instance, in one of Don Lemon’s program of CNN Tonight, he along with reporter colleague Wajahat Ali and Republican strategist Rick Wilson made remarks on how Trump supporters are ‘ignorant rubes’, that they ‘can’t find Ukraine on a map even if it had a U and a picture of a crane’. Though the following night he issued an ‘apology’, no apology was ever said. It can be accepted that programs on Fox News can be biased, such as Hannity’s or The Ingraham Angle, but the scale is far less than that of other media outlets. But in the end, the decision to choose which news source to rely on is the viewer. 

References

Daniel J. Hopkins and Jonathan M. Ladd (2013) https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=919102102125114082031122087014000024125011038043027056100114118024103113028095089119017122037004103000001023070088097121099097001014042028065075084115081005121013123031053007070023117016003086029011127082070071010101086111125101120020122113115009101083&EXT=pdf

Michael Ray (2020) https://www.britannica.com/topic/Fox-News-Channel

Stefano DellaVigna and Ethan Kaplan (2007) http://econweb.umd.edu/~kaplan/foxnews.pdf

(2010) https://www.people-press.org/2010/09/12/americans-spending-more-time-following-the-news/

Elizabeth Schroeder and Daniel Stone (2013) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272302629_Fox_News_and_Political_Knowledge

Erik Wemple (2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2017/03/14/is-fox-news-part-of-the-mainstream-media-it-depends/?arc404=true

Nellie Andreeva and Ted Johnson (2019) https://deadline.com/2019/12/cable-ratings-2019-list-fox-news-total-viewers-espn-18-49-demo-1202817561/

(2019) https://pos.org/whos-watching-a-look-at-the-demographics-of-cable-news-channel-watchers/

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