This paper assesses the normative and positive claims regarding the consequences of biased media using a political agency framework with a strategic voter, polarized politicians, and news providers. My model predicts that voters are always better informed with unbiased than biased outlets even when the latter have opposite ideological preferences. However, biased media may improve voter welfare. Contrary to several scholars' fear, partisan news providers are not always bad for democracy. My theoretical findings also have important implications for empirical analyses of the electoral consequences of changes in the media environment. Left-wing and right-wing biased outlets have heterogeneous effects on electoral outcomes which need to be properly accounted for. Existing empirical studies are unlikely to measure the consequences of biased media as researchers never observe and can rarely approximate the adequate counterfactual: elections with unbiased news outlets.
Stephane Wolton is an assistant professor in political science in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He received his Ph.D in economics from the University of Chicago in June 2014.
His research interest is in formal theory (with a comparative approach). His area of studies are political accountability and democratic responsiveness, the role and influence of special interest groups, and organizational politics (and economics).