Many US citizens currently live in the era of slanted media. Citizens question the legitimacy of the US government and opposing parties, and this has caused the quality of democracy to decline. The huge pool of biased news sources has contributed to the polarized nation. But in order to demonstrate this connection, I first have to define the core principles of a stable democracy and democratic erosion.
If we were to define democracy according to Robert Dahl’s interpretation, it would be a form of government that is extremely responsive to its citizen’s preferences. And although it may seem unrealistic to be completely responsive to the people, ideal societies would prioritize free universal suffrage, freedom to participate and create organizations, the ability for citizens to compete for public office, and freedom of expression .
Freedom of the press is the most important characteristic of a stable democracy. All other factors rely on access to dependable news. If a society is unable to receive unbiased information about its representatives and its country, it begins to lose its faith in democratic procedures. They would lose faith in elections, the legitimacy of their representatives and opponents, and, most importantly, they would lose faith in the importance of merely participating.
The prevalence of slanted media has increased in the 20th and late 19th centuries (6). According to a study from the Knight Foundation, less than 20% of the responders trusted the media as an unbiased news source, and since 1989, the amount of people who believe the media is biased has almost doubled (4).
Currently, biased media plays a big role in the outcomes of elections and has the ability to reiterate polarized ideologies (3). People normally view and read biased news sources that lean more towards their interests, which causes a polarized feedback loop where their views are the only ones expressed (7). This influences the audience and creates hyperpartisanship. The effects of this can be seen in the increasing amount of roll-call votes in the legislature (4). Congressmembers, along with the increasing amount of biases in news outlets, has been at odds with others who hold opposing views. The lack of compromise has created gridlock in government.
Some believe that this isn’t a severe issue or a component of democratic erosion because of the US Constitution. That if we follow those core liberties, then the people’s voice will be acknowledged and protected in the higher forms of government. Although, the beginning stages of failed democracies have had two norms: lack of forbearance when creating policies and lack of tolerance for opposing parties . This combination begins to erode democracies and slanted media sources have intensified this extreme opposition.
Recent studies have shown that since 1960, representatives have explicitly expressed their lack of tolerance to opposing parties . A Pew study has demonstrated that politicians not only lack tolerance for the other party but strongly hold “ unfavorable views of their partisan opponents” (Pew 2016) (5).
If news platforms continue to allow the spread of biased information, Americans will continue to be at odds with one another at the mass public and elite levels, which will continue to polarize our democracy and lead to its erosion.
- Robert Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, 1971
- Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. Broadway Books, 2018.
- Martin, Gregory J., and Ali Yurukoglu. 2017. “Bias in Cable News: Persuasion and Polarization.” American Economic Review
- Knight Foundation, “American Views: Trust, media and democracy” (2018)
- Mason, Lilliana. “Uncivil Agreement.” How Politics Became Our Identity, 2018.
- Dellavigna, Stefano, and Ethan Kaplan. “The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting.” NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH, 2006.
- Bias in Cable News: Persuasion and Polarization By Gregory J. Martin and Ali Yurukoglu