Do the mainstream media pander towards the political perspectives of their target audience, or do they attempt to influence their readers' votes towards specific political parties?

I am especially interested in what peer-reviewed research says on this topic, assuming there is any. Not being well-versed in this area, I thought it best to ask those with more experience.

  • 1
    Your first paragraph doesn't speak to quite the same thing as your subject+second paragraph. The latter is more interesting :)
    – user4012
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 18:10
  • 2
    For an US specific POV I think nobody doubts that FOX and MSNBC pander to different people and do their best to point 'their' party in a favorable light. Is this what interests you - you definitively should limit your question to countries and time frame & explain why en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_bias_in_the_United_States does not answer your question
    – user45891
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 19:52
  • What country do u have in mind?
    – Anixx
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 5:26
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    I think it's rather obvious media influence how people vote. You'd have to user very serious arguments in order to proof that they have no influence whatsoever.
    – Bregalad
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 11:26
  • 1
    @Bregalad It may be obvious, but I think the reality is complex and has subtitles. I would like help understanding that reality. Commented May 6, 2015 at 13:37

3 Answers 3


Consider one important thing too about the election and the media: how they are financed. In most countries, political organizations use the public and private financing, introducing several people and companies which can donor the amount of money established by the law. Some countries have limitations of how much to spend, others don't.

At the moment to receive the donation of significant people/companies/multinational, people start thinking the correlation between the donors and how much they can influence to vote of X candidate. The money is an important fact, we know because, what is paid with the donation is political advertising.

Google made an infographic explaining how the elector access to political information (specifically political advertising).

enter image description here

In order to sell these ads, most campaigns chiefs decide to spend more money in Social Media, online videos rather than traditional advertising (specially TV); The televisions companies (broadcasters), in order to create more profits for these ads, put on air cheap programming like junk news or gossips shows, creating a perspective problem:

  • What is the information the voter see? A political advertising or election coverage news?

What they see is crucial to them in order to understand for who they're going to vote or what candidate shouldn't be taken into account. (Hypothesis)

This lead is attached to the main question: the influence of media over a voter. There's a paper:

Kuhn, R. (2013). The Media and the 2012 Presidential Election. Modern & Contemporary France.

In this study, Raymond Kuhn explained that media has some influence in voters, specifically on those undecided, depending of their level of educations, age, sociological condition among others characteristics. In his own words:

While many have decided how to vote well in advance of the campaign, a high proportion (anything up to 40%) declare in the days and weeks immediately before polling that they are still undecided regarding their choice of candidate. (...) For these undecided voters media coverage of the candidates’ campaigns made a difference to their choice.

The days when both candidates attacked themselves, trying to diminish the amount of followers of X candidates are over. The media focus their content in people who are in the grey line, those who don't support one part or another, not trying to convert people from democrats to republicans, socialists to liberals.

EXTRA: Wire made a graphic explaining how much Obama and Romney spent in the 2012 elections.

enter image description here

  • is that cost adjusted for inflation?
    – endolith
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 3:36
  • Yes @endolith it's adjusted for inflation.
    – nelruk
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 11:15

Both premises are complementary, not mutually exclusive:

  • Mainstream media panders towards the political perspectives of their target audience.

  • They attempt to influence their readers' votes towards specific political parties and away from opposing parties. Pandering is the sugar that helps the influencer's medicine go down.

Proving widely accepted generalities by polls, statistics, or whatnot is going around Robin Hood's barn. Sufficient evidence can be found in a small library of books written by the journalists that "made the sausage": candid histories of media empires and media moguls, and authorial and editorial apologetics, confessions, and critiques.

  • This would benefit from some examples of said small library...
    – agc
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 5:34

Pulling this out of politics, it was noticeably relevant during the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960. At the time, mass communication was transitioning from Radio to TV so some Americans "listened" to the debate while others "watched the debate". Among those surveyed, with politics accounting for biased between the two, the one difference was the perception of the candidates. Nixon was said to be the winner of the debates among those who listened via radio. Kennedy was considered the winner by those who watched on TV. The reason for this is that in the case of the latter, Nixon had a face for radio, so whenever Nixon made a point, the TV crowd was forced to look at the nightmare of sweat and bad studio make-up that was Nixon, contrasted with the added distraction of the very good looking JFK. Whereas radio listeners had no such comaprison and thought Nixon was beating Kennedy.

Traditionally, if the candidates are seen standing side by side, the taller of the two candidates is preferred. This was noticed during the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections when George W. Bush (6'0") bucked this trend and beat 6'1" Al Gore and 6'4" John Kerry.

Another issue that was observed was the 2016 candidates, especially during the debates. I have no sources for other than several anecdotes, but there was a noticeable disagreement between media personalities and people who tuned in. The former declared Hilary the winner while the latter said it was Trump. This may be due to the fact that Trump had strong openings in all three debates but would stumble about 45 minutes to an hour into the show. The media and those who watched fully and alone would pick up on this and it would be fresh at the end of the program when the talking heads would debate the arguments. However, if you were in a group or just casually watching, the first 30 minutes was about where you checked out to discuss with others or do something else, missing the later stumbles.

Another interesting factor to the 2016 debates was that Clinton supporters suspected that the strong polling for Trump were because of sexism among his supporters. There was an experiment conducted where a group who had not watched the debate were given recordings of an actor discussing all of Clinton's talking points while an actress was given all of Trump's talking points and the group found that it was the woman who made the most sense (though if I recall, the sample size was small).

  • The question asks for peer-reviewed research. This answer does not provide it. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 1:47

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