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Study: Fox Viewers More Likely to Have Factual Opinions If They Switch Networks

Partisan media like Fox “may present a challenge for democratic accountability,” the study’s researchers concluded.

A study examining the effects of viewing Fox News programming on a regular basis suggests that Fox News viewers who switch to one of the network’s competitors are more likely to have a better understanding of political and societal issues.

The study, conducted last September and published this week by University of California at Berkeley professors David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, enlisted hundreds of Fox News viewers to participate. The researchers randomized a portion of the entire group, offering that sample $15 per hour to switch to watching CNN for 30 days. The researchers then compared that group’s views and opinions to the control group that continued watching Fox News during that time.

A few days after the 30-day switch concluded, participants from both groups were polled on their political beliefs.

“We found large effects of watching CNN instead of Fox News on participants’ factual perceptions of current events (i.e., beliefs) and knowledge about the 2020 presidential candidates’ positions,” the researchers said.

Those that made the switch were more likely to change their attitudes on a host of issues, including on the pandemic and on then-President Donald Trump, the study found. Their views also appeared more aligned with facts — for example, those who switched networks were 6 percentage points more likely to believe the COVID-19 crisis was handled better in other countries.

Regarding the 2020 presidential election, which was taking place when the study was conducted, the Fox News participants who watched CNN instead of Fox were 3 percent more likely to have lower opinions of Trump. They were also 10 points less likely to hold the false belief that Biden supporters were happy upon hearing news of police shootings.

The researchers also asked participants whether they felt the Trump campaign was doing enough to protect individuals attending his political rallies from contracting the virus. Fox viewers who switched to CNN were 10 points more likely to recognize the Trump campaign’s negligence in this regard.

Opinions on the candidates and political parties changed, too. Those who switched networks were 11 percentage points less likely than the control group to believe that Trump should put more focus on quelling uprisings than on responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Those who stuck with Fox were also nearly 10 points more likely to falsely believe that Democrats would try to steal the 2020 presidential election.

In the end, “treated participants concluded that Fox concealed negative information about President Trump,” the researchers said, noting that “partisan media does not only present its side an electoral advantage — it may present a challenge for democratic accountability.”

Fox News’s accuracy in reporting has been especially scrutinized in the months since the study concluded, as the network has repeatedly allowed coverage of Trump’s false election claims to go unchecked on the air. The network’s refusal to counteract false assertions of election fraud has led to a number of lawsuits against Fox News, including one by election systems company Smartmatic, which is suing the network for $2.7 billion, alleging that they were defamed by false reports from Fox personalities.

Last month, a New York judge allowed that lawsuit to move forward, finding that the network misled viewers and that it had “turned a blind eye” to “outrageous claims” that its anchors were making about the company. Those claims were “so inherently improbable that it evinced a reckless disregard for the truth,” that judge said.

Other past examinations have showcased how Fox News pushes disinformation onto its viewers. A study published last year, for instance, compared knowledge of scientific facts and societal issues among viewers of several networks, ultimately finding that there was a decreased level of knowledge among Fox viewers versus other media.

A study published a decade ago also found evidence that Fox News was misinforming its viewers. Those who watched the network as their primary source for news coverage were less informed on political issues than individuals who consumed little or no news at all, according to the study’s findings.

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