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Opinion Study: Democrats vulnerable to Fox News’s magical powers

The News Corporation headquarters building and Fox News studios in New York. (Richard Drew/AP)
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Last month, a guy from Kentucky sabotaged a “Fox & Friends” segment staged at a diner in the Louisville area. “FOX LIES,” read a sign that the man had prepared for this moment. He found out about the diner’s TV guests, however, by watching Fox News. “You have to check out the competition,” contractor Bob Reams told this blog. “You have to check out what they’re saying. If I didn’t watch them, I wouldn’t hate them. I wouldn’t know what they’re up to.”

Watch out, Reams: A new study indicates that Fox News has magical effects on people like him. “Were a viewer initially at the ideology of the median Democratic voter in 2008 to watch an additional 3 minutes of Fox News per week, her likelihood of voting Republican would increase by 1.03 percentage points,” reads the study by Gregory J. Martin and Ali Yurukoglu of Emory and Stanford universities, respectively. Another finding: Fox News holds more sway over Democrats than MSNBC holds over Republicans.

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Numbers go with that assertion. According to the study, published in the American Economic Review, Fox News racked up “persuasion rates” of 58 percent in 2000, 27 percent in 2004 and 28 percent in 2008. What’s a persuasion rate, anyway? It’s a thingy in which the numerator measures Fox News viewers “who are initially Democrats but by the end of an election cycle change to supporting the Republican party. The denominator is the number of [Fox News] viewers who are initially Democrats.” Corresponding figures for MSNBC — Republicans converting to Democrats, that is — are 16 percent, 0 percent and 8 percent. Asked about Fox News’s Democratic audience, Martin told this blog via email, “Given Fox’s content, yes, it is likely that these Democrats are relatively less ideologically committed and more persuadable compared to Democrats who don’t watch Fox.”

Previous studies have nibbled at adjacent findings. Conservative support for Fox News, for example, has consistently outstripped liberal support for MSNBC. And liberals flock to a greater assortment of sources than conservatives, as the Pew Research Center has found.

There are other, more eye-popping figures to come out of this detailed study. For instance, in a world without Fox News, the Republican presidential candidate’s portion of the two-party vote in 2004 would have been nearly four percentage points lower, enough to hand to the popular vote to failed Democratic candidate John F. Kerry. Of course, the counter to this proposition writes itself: How would Republicans fare in the absence of CNN, NBC News, CBS News, the New York Times, etc.?

The study uses a mind-blowing methodology relating to Fox News’s position on cable channel menus. In places where it’s lower, people tend to watch more Fox News, a consideration that enables the researchers to examine its impact on their political disposition.

Over the past year, the public has learned a great deal about Fox News as a news organization; the sexual-harassment scandals of late Fox News chief Roger Ailes and former top host Bill O’Reilly have forced a spotlight on one of the media’s most obscure outposts. Perhaps more important, however, is the sort of work packaged in this study — i.e., how Fox News affects its viewers. Nothing presented by these researchers conflicts with what the Erik Wemple Blog has observed over the years, including during an interview with a woman who watches eight hours of Fox News per night (including reruns).