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“How the Pro-Beijing Media Influence Voters: Evidence from a Field Experiment” by Jay Kao

July 1, 2020 @ 9:00 am - 10:00 am

Author: Jay Kao (UT Austin).

Abstract: Despite the mounting concern about the electoral influences of authoritarian regimes in democracies in the form of disinformation campaigns, an unsolved question is whether and how the slanted media associated with autocracies affect voters? We deploy a field experiment during the 2020 Taiwanese Presidential Election to measure the effects of the pro-Beijing media on voter behavior and opinions toward China. Weeks before Election Day, we randomly assign subjects to receive access to an online news website containing real political news from the pro-Beijing media. We track subjects’ actual browsing behavior on the news website, vote intent and realized choice, and political attitudes over four weeks. Results based on a panel survey show that the pro-Beijing media significantly nudges people to support and vote for China’s preferred presidential candidate and adopt more favorable attitudes toward China-related issues. The treatment effects are larger among those who spend more time on the news site. Importantly, the results are chiefly driven by those who are predisposed to accept China-friendly messages and those who are more vulnerable to media influence. By contrast, some evidence of backlash is detected among those who are dismissive of China ex ante. We further show that the effect heterogeneity is likely caused by motivated political reasoning – both cognitive and affective reactions of individuals to the pro-Beijing news are along their partisan lines. A placebo test confirms the finding. This study has important implications for the growing concern over Chinese attempts to influence media market beyond its borders and the electoral impact of disinformation from foreign governments in democracies.

Discussants: Noel Foster (Princeton), Ji Yeon Hong (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), Daniel Mattingly (Yale), and Hans H. Tung (National Taiwan University).

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