New Study Links Fox News To Social Distancing Non-Compliance

Laura Ingraham's The Angle on February 26, 2020.Screengrab / Fox News / YouTube


Columbia and Chicago researchers found “strong evidence of a Fox New viewership effect on… propensity to stay at home.”

In a working paper circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers from Columbia University and the University of Chicago produced a study suggesting that Fox News viewership is “strongly correlated with ignoring social distancing guidance during the first weeks of the COVID-19 epidemic,” Talking Points Memo reports.

  • The researchers examined geospatial information from anonymized cell phone data to track people’s general movements. They also looked at cable channel viewership by zip code throughout the United States.

  • A 1 percent increase in Fox News viewership in a zip code correlated with a 8.9 percent reduction in social distancing.

  • TPM writes that although “the study does a decent job finding ways to isolate the persuasive element from the correlation… The authors do note, revealingly, that they are not able to fully distinguish between the impact of Fox News commentators versus” that of administration officials whose statements are portrayed on the channel.

As a working paper, the study has not yet been reviewed by peers or by the Bureau’s editorial board.

In the conclusion, the researchers state,

We find strong evidence of a Fox New viewership effect on several measures of the incremental propensity to stay at home during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis in the US, relative to January 2020 immediately before the outbreak. While comparable in magnitude to the voting context, the persuasive effect of Fox Viewership on social distancing compliance is quite large, especially given that it defies the expert recommendations from leaders of the US and global health communities. Interestingly, we fail to find conclusive effects of CNN viewership on social distancing compliance.

We do not analyze the implications for the spread of COVID-19 cases or deaths. However, we believe our findings would be relevant to policies to flatten-the-curve. In particular, news media appears to be sufficiently persuasive to dissuade many individuals from complying with containment policies. However, we leave it to health experts to determine whether the magnitude of these changes in compliance are sufficient to affect health outcomes in a material way.

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