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Partisan news shows broadcast emotions alongside information, says Klarman Fellow

On Jan. 4 and 5, 2021, 27 out of 30 prime time news segments on Fox News were angry in tone, according to research by political scientist Erin Cikanek. Then on Jan. 6, the world viewed a violent display of partisan emotion, as the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. was attacked by a mob of former President Trump’s supporters.

Angry news and angry actions: Cikanek, a Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow in government in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), is studying the connections.

“How people feel about politics can be just as integral as what they think about politics – liking or disliking something, being angry, being afraid,” Cikanek said. “We know from political psychological research that when people have these feelings, it drives how they think and behave."

Some scholars hold the view that citizens get their ideas about government and policies from political leaders, celebrities and other public figures. Cikanek builds on this idea by proposing that citizens pick up not just what to think but how to feel from television news. By studying prime time news programming and peoples’ reactions to it, Cikanek is finding that Americans gather different emotional information from partisan news programs than they do from traditional outlets, with consequences for democratic norms, political violence and polarization. 

Read the full story on the College of Arts and Sciences website.


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