A new study published in the Journal of Communication reveals communities without local newspapers correlate with more polarized voting behavior.
The study, “Newspaper Closures Polarize Voting Behavior,” was conducted by Texas A&M University’s Johanna Dunaway, Louisiana State University’s Joshua Darr and Colorado State University’s Matthew Hitt.
Counties without local news sources, the study found, rely more heavily on national media outlets, which tend to report political news as a two-party political conflict, according to a post in Texas A&M Today.
Those counties also lack coverage of local representatives and their stance on a variety of issues.
“Residents of cities without sources of local news are losing their ability to hold their political representatives accountable in ways that encourage ethical and effective representation,” stated Dunaway, professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M.
“The more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government,” she added.
As a result, local newspaper closures contribute to increases in straight-ticket, party-line voting.
With the increasing dominance of national media, “legislators have more incentive to respond to the needs and preferences of their political parties than to those of their districts, leaving their constituents to pay the price when those interests are in opposition,” according to Texas A&M Today.
The study analyzed split-ticket voting in statistically similar counties to see whether or not it matched up with political party ideology.
They found a 1.9% drop in split-ticket voting in presidential and senatorial elections in counties where local newspapers closed.
“In elections research, where fluctuations of 1% are considered substantial, this difference is dramatic,” according to Texas A&M Today.
This means voters without local news options are more likely than usual to vote on the basis of party identification alone.
In October, Publishers Daily reported more than 1,300 U.S. communities have lost news coverage, according to “The Expanding News Desert,” a University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism study.
About 20% of metro and community newspapers (1,800) have closed or merged since 2004, when 9,000 were published. Since then, about 70% of the newspapers shuttered were in suburban areas of cities.
Communities without coverage tend to be rural.
As of 2018, the South is the hardest hit region, with 91 counties lacking newspapers, according to the UNC database.