The effects of strategy coverage on affective polarization

Alon Zoizner, Shaul R. Shenhav, Yair Fogel-Dror, Tamir Sheafer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


U.S. citizens nowadays show increasing levels of hostility and distrust toward members of the opposite party. This paper examines the media’s role in explaining this phenomenon— usually referred to as affective polarization—by focusing on the effects of political news content. We ask how individual’s exposure to strategic news coverage—the media’s tendency to focus on politicians’ strategic motivations behind their behavior and their campaign
performance—influences affective polarization. We examine this question empirically in the U.S. context by using two complementary research designs: (1) a cross-sectional analysis that links survey data with a computational content analysis of 415,604 news articles; (2) and a randomized survey experiment. Our findings show that strategy coverage decreases hostility toward political opponents. In contrast, political coverage that focuses on substance (policies
and issue positions) increases inter-party hostility. These results stress a crucial tension in democracies: one the one hand, it is widely expected that journalists will focus more on substance rather than on strategies to win elections, as it enables voters making rational decisions. On the other hand, such focus on substance has a price: it fuels hatred between political opponents.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe 15th International Graduate Conference
Subtitle of host publicationIn Political Science, International Relations, and Public Policy
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


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