Not just 'entertainment': Soft news coverage really affects voters' choices

October 31, 2006

A new UCLA political science analysis of voter preferences and voting patterns during the 2000 presidential election shows that politically inattentive voters who watched daytime talk shows were nearly 25% more likely to vote according to their own values and preferences than their counterparts who did not watch daytime television. In fact, the "Oprah effect" had more than twice as strong an impact on the voting patterns of politically unengaged voters as traditional news coverage had on the patterns of the politically engaged.

The study for the first time quantifies the impact on voting behavior of "soft news," which is often criticized for "dumbing down" political discourse. During the 2000 presidential election, at least four daytime entertainment talk shows, including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," interviewed major party candidates. Since then, issues around "soft news" coverage of political candidates have continued to surface with every national election. Earlier this month, California state treasurer Phil Angelides, a Democrat, demanded equal time when "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" hosted his opponent, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for the fifth time since the 2003 campaign. Leno declined. During an appearance following week on "Oprah," U.S. Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.) told Winfrey that if he ever decided to run for president, he would announce it on her show.
Matthew A. Baum, a UCLA associate professor of political science who is on leave at Harvard University, and Angela S. Jamison, a UCLA graduate student, are available for interviews.

The research appears in the November 2006 issue of the Journal of Politics.

The paper can be viewed at

University of California - Los Angeles

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