Assessing the Causal Effect of Economic Media Coverage on Economic Attitudes

Departmental Event

Start Date: Jan 20, 2017 - 12:00pm
End Date: Jan 20, 2017 - 01:30pm

Location: Social Sciences Building, Rm. 2069

Professor Amber Boydstun
University of California Davis

Does economic media coverage have a causal effect on public perceptions of economic performance? Efforts to identify causality are hampered by the confounding influence of economic conditions on both media coverage and economic attitudes, as well as the difficulty of measuring the tone of media coverage. We adopt a measure of media tone that outperforms other commonly used measures in its ability to predict tone as read by humans. Using this measure, we present two strategies for isolating a possible causal effect of media coverage. We find that both media tone and economic attitudes are strongly shaped by economic conditions. Yet beyond the role of the economy itself, media tone has a noticeable causal effect on economic attitudes, namely when media tone deviates from that predicted by economic fundamentals. This finding has important normative and political significance, given that economic attitudes motivate a wide variety of political behavior.

Amber Boydstun is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Davis. Her work bridges multiple disciplines, including psychology, journalism, and computer science. Her core research examines the interaction between media and politics, with a focus on how different media portrayals of the same policy issue can prompt citizens and policymakers to respond to that issue in different ways. She is author of Making the News (Chicago) and co-author of The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence (Cambridge), as well as many journal articles. Boydstun works with scholars across the globe as a member of the Comparative Agendas Project, a collaborative enterprise by political science and policy scholars to measure international government outputs. She serves on the editorial boards for the journal Political Communication, the Text as Data Association, and the Women Also Know Stuff initiative. Most recently, she co-chaired the 2016 Visions in Methodology Conference.