Moderates won the midterms - BCB #24
Also: Twitter neutrality vs. Musk's endorsement, the news has gotten angrier
This election turned out to be much less polarized, or polarizing, than it could have been. Yascha Mounk cites a number of examples in this piece: on the Red side, extremist candidates like Blake Masters and Kari Lake lost; on the Blue side, the more moderate Raphael Warnock out-performed Stacy Abrams.
But one of the most interesting signals is the increase in split ticket voting, where a voter supports both Red and Blue candidates for different offices on the same ballot. Split ticket voting has been declining for years and was practically extinct by 2016. Yet it went up this year, by various measures. For example, four states elected a governor and a senator from different parties.
Elon Musk endorsed Republicans. Does this mean Twitter can’t be neutral?
Before he owned Twitter, Musk claimed that the platform must be “politically neutral.” His pre-election endorsement seems to violate this principle. However, journalism also typically claims political neutrality, yet there is a long history of newspapers endorsing candidates.
Such endorsements may not make much difference in the modern era. Republican candidates lost support from newspapers, but not the public, over the last 40 years:
Whether or not these endorsements actually matter to voters may depend on pre-existing conceptions of bias. This research notes that “endorsements for the Democratic candidate from left-leaning newspapers are less influential than endorsements from neutral or right-leaning newspapers and likewise for endorsements for the Republican.” In other words, Musk’s support probably didn’t change anyone’s vote. It could change how people view Twitter, but again, Musk’s Red sympathies are no surprise.
However, his endorsement does buck the trend – some papers are stopping endorsements, saying they’re too polarizing.
According to this newly published study, there has been a big increase in news headlines suggesting fear, anger, disgust, and sadness since 2000, and especially since about 2010. More partisan news outlets are generally more negative, while Red-leaning outlets have been more negative than Blue. Overall, the fraction of all of these negative emotions is rising across the media landscape.
The question is, why? The above research doesn’t investigate this, but we see three categories of explanations. First, the world may simply be a more depressing place than it used to be. Whether life has actually gotten worse for most people is unclear; indicators like poverty and health have improved in recent decades, but there are also negative trends like the quality of democracy. Second, the rise of the Internet has made the media landscape more competitive, incentivizing the production of outrage. While these incentives seem very real – one study found that “out-group language is the strongest predictor of social media engagement” – it’s not obvious whether they are strong enough to be the driving force here. Third, it’s likely that increased polarization is in a feedback loop with media negativity; more polarized citizens are worried about the other side and want coverage of perceived threats, yet such coverage itself drives polarization, in part by creating misperceptions of how extreme the other side actually is.
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Quote of the Week
In practically every state where a more extreme Republican candidate ran alongside a more moderate one for different statewide offices, the more moderate candidate drew a higher share of the vote.