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Working Papers, No. 2024-04, February 2024 Crossref
Persuasion and Dissuasion in Political Campaigns: Political Communication and Media Coverage in Senate Races

We study the strategic interaction between candidates to office and the print media, exploring the following tension: while the media is instrumental for candidates to communicate with voters, candidates and media outlets have conflicting preferences over the contents of media reporting. We propose a model of bipartisan races where candidates make decisions over the type of constituencies to target with their statements along the campaign trail and media outlets make decisions over how intensely to report about the candidates based on those statements. Different kinds of media reports may persuade or dissuade voters. We develop a methodology to classify news content as suggestive of the target audience of candidate speech, and show how data on media reports and poll results, together with the behavioral implications of the model, can be used to estimate its parameters. We implement this methodology on U.S. Senatorial races for the period 1980-2012, and find that Democratic candidates had stronger incentives to target their messages towards turning out their core supporters than Republicans. We also find that the cost in swing-voter support from targeting core supporters was larger for Democrats than for Republicans. These effects balanced each other, making media outlets willing to cover candidates from both parties at similar rates.

Working papers are not edited, and all opinions and errors are the responsibility of the author(s). The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago or the Federal Reserve System.

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