“You don’t enter the media business to get rich”: Does a change in the political orientation of a newspaper affect voting behaviour in immigration referendums?

Abstract

When does the media shape political attitudes and behaviour? Despite decades of research, this question is far from settled. While some studies suggest that new media sources and surprising candidate endorsements affect voters’ political preferences, others document media effects that range between minimal and inexistent. This paper exploits a sudden change in the political orientation of a newspaper that differs from previously studied contexts and uses it to propose a new scope condition for future research. It focuses on the case of the Basel Newspaper, an important regional newspaper in Switzerland that saw a change in its political slant after the sudden and hostile take-over by a leading politician (and billionaire) on the far-right. Leveraging frequent referendums and a range of panel data methods, I find that the newspaper’s coverage of asylum and refugee issues did indeed become markedly more restrictionist after the take-over, but that this change did not affect support for anti-immigration policies in national referendums. This finding suggests that the public involvement of politicians in news companies might limit the impact of their products on consumers’ political attitudes and behaviour.

[Paper]