Fox News Channel has been recognized since its inception in 1996, when it was established by Republican operative Roger Ailes, as a right-leaning news source. But a new study published in the American Economic Review shows just how influential the channel is when it comes to changing viewers' minds, causing them to shift to the right on political issues—and even influencing election outcomes in ways that the outlet's more liberal counterparts don't.
Researchers at Emory and Stanford universities found that watching only three minutes of Fox News coverage per week would make Democratic and centrist voters one percent more likely to vote Republican in the 2008 election.
According to the study, this means that if Fox News hadn't existed in 2004, George W. Bush would have captured nearly four fewer percentage points, making John Kerry the popular vote winner. In 2008, Barack Obama would have won in a landslide if it weren't for Fox, capturing 60 percent of the vote, with John McCain winning 6.34 percent fewer votes.
Notably, the research shows that Fox appears driven by its ability to shift its viewership to the right even more than it's guided by its bottom line. According to Vox, the study finds "that Fox isn't setting its ideology where it ought to, to maximize its viewership. It's much more conservative than is optimal from that perspective. But it's pretty close to the slant that would maximize its persuasive power—that would result in the largest rightward movement among viewers. CNN, by contrast, matched its political stances pretty closely to the viewer-maximizing point, showing less interest in operating as a political agent."
CNN and MSNBC are also not as effective at shaping viewers' opinions. "Fox is substantially better at influencing Democrats than MSNBC is at influencing Republicans," said the authors of the study. While Fox was able to convince 58 percent of Democratic viewers to vote for Bush in 2000, and persuaded sizable minorities of Democrats to vote Republican in the following two elections, MSNBC did not have the same effect on conservative viewers in the same elections.
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Fox News Channel "is consistently more effective at converting viewers than is MSNBC which has corresponding estimated persuasion rates of just 16 percent, 0 percent, and 8 percent," said the study.
The study confirms earlier research done after Fox was introduced in 1996, including a 2007 report from Berkeley which found "a significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000...Fox News convinced 3 to 28 percent of its viewers to vote Republican."
The newest research confirms what many critics already suspected about Fox News: that it's pushed conservative ideals and Republican agendas since its beginning, serving as a tool used by the GOP establishment to shift viewers to the right—and even swing elections.
The study did not analyze Fox's impact on the 2016 election, but according to a Pew Research poll taken in January, Fox News was the most-watched news source among Trump voters during the campaign, with 40 percent of his supporters relying on the channel for their news.