Is the media really biased? Or does it depend on your political identity and choice of media platform?

What media platforms do you use to gain knowledge of the current political campaign? Do you believe that the media are often biased toward one political party over the other? School of Communication Studies professor, Paul Haridakis, Ph.D. and associate professor, Mei-Chen Lin, Ph.D. and School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor emeritus Gary Hanson explored these questions and found that the political groups people belong to and the media they attend to makes a difference in the perception of media bias.

In the study titled, “The Role of Political Identity and Media Selection on Perceptions of Hostile Media Bias During the 2012 Presidential Campaign,” Lin, Haridakis and Hanson explored how people used the media to seek political information during the 2012 presidential election and how intergroup relations, such as group status, intergroup bias and political ideology, play an important role in whether people view media coverage of the presidential campaign as biased against his/her political party or not.  

When examining the media platforms people used to get political information, the research team found that participants who used radio and video sharing platforms, such as YouTube, perceived more hostile bias against their political party. Participants who used television and social networking sites seemed to debunk perception of media bias. In their research, they found that social media was not used as much as other platforms for political information, such as television or the internet.

“This was not a surprising finding,” Lin said. “Television users are more passive users, where radio listeners are often more enthusiastic and will call in to discuss their views. It seems to be a more purposeful use of media.”

The researchers also found three important intergroup variables that influenced perceptions of media bias. The first is political ideology. Specifically, extreme conservative and extreme liberal individuals tended to see more hostile media bias against their political views. Next, the researchers found that intergroup bias was present which means political party group members have positive emotions towards their own group and negative emotions toward related out-groups. Their research showed that the majority of people, about 87%, have positive attitude bias toward their own political party. The third intergroup difference regarded group status which refers to whether a group is viewed as “better” or “worse” than other groups by society. In their research, the team found the group that felt they had a lower status, compared with those who did not feel that way, was more likely to perceive hostile media bias.

“We always think the media is biased toward our own political group; its human nature,” Haridakis said. “But this study proved that the specific media platform used and our intergroup feelings make a difference.”

Through their research, Lin, Haridakis and Hanson hope to encourage their colleagues and students to look at the type of media they are getting their information from and think about how that may affect their thoughts and feelings. They also hope to encourage people to think about intergroup differences and how they may affect media use and effects.  

“Politics is inherently intergroup in its nature,” Haridakis said. “It is important for researchers to explore this concept and be critical of intergroup relationships and media bias. Presidential campaigns are important for our country; how we perceive the media and our own political parties can make a difference in our decisions.”

POSTED: Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - 8:30am
UPDATED: Friday, October 7, 2016 - 4:58pm
Alexa Thomas