Ulric B. and Evelyn L. Bray Social Sciences Seminar
Abstract: We study how instrumental media consumption driven by political identity shapes electoral results. Citizens are exposed to mainstream news but also to media sources they select which filter news in particular predetermined ways. Citizens process all information they receive correctly, but choose their media sources in a behavioral self-serving way to try to preserve their political faith/identity, namely attempting to rationally counteract mainstream news that they might view as unfavorable. If citizens on either side are exposed or trust to different extents to mainstream news, as in the US case, this endogenous media choice can swing an election in favor of the wrong candidate. In illiberal democracies where the government controls the mainstream media, we show how state propaganda is effective only if citizens are unaware of it, and backfires entirely otherwise, unless non-state media are censored.