Media Take-Over and Voting Behavior: Can Politician-Owned Newspapers Sway Voters?

Abstract

Under what conditions are voters better able to discount a medium’s bias in favor of a particular party, candidate or issue position? A growing literature suggests that news media affect electoral behavior, but we still know little about the conditions under which these effects do or do not occur. This study leverages the case of the Basler Zeitung, a Swiss regional daily that was sud- denly and surprisingly taken over by a leading politician (and billionaire) on the far-right in 2010, to shed light on this question. Drawing on a range of text analysis tools and panel data methods, I find that the newspaper’s political slant changed after the take-over, but there is no evidence that this change significantly affected citizens’ voting behavior, neither in national elections nor referendums. This finding suggests that there are conditions under which voters have enough information about the owner’s motives and the medium’s bias to reduce the medium’s influence on voting behavior to insignificance.

[Working Paper]