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

Abstract

Are there conditions under which we should not expect slanted media to affect political attitudes and voting behavior? A growing literature suggests that news media have significant effects, but we still know little about the conditions under which these occur. This study leverages the case of the Basler Zeitung, a Swiss regional daily that was suddenly and surprisingly taken over by a leading politician 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 takover led to an anti-immigrant turn in the newspaper’s political slant and a reduction in circulation rates, but there is no evidence that it systematically affected locals’ attitudes or voting. These findings highlight the existence of conditions under which media effects do not occur in high media plurality environments: when there are strong signals of the owner’s political motives.