Article | American Economic Review | December 2009

Media Markets and Localism: Does Local News en Español Boost Hispanic Voter Turnout?

by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Joel Waldfogel

Abstract

Since the dawn of broadcasting, and especially in the past decade, Americans have turned their attention from local to more distant sources of news and entertainment. While the integration of media markets will raise the private welfare of many consumers, critics of a globalized information and entertainment industry claim that transnational media undermine civic engagement, transforming locally engaged citizens into viewers consuming programming from distant sources. In response to such concerns, many regulatory agencies, including the Federal Communication Commission in the United States, curtail the integration of media markets to promote “localism.” To find the right balance between the private benefits of integrated markets and the public value of civic engagement, evidence on the size of the positive spillovers from local media is needed. To date, such evidence is scant. In this paper, we exploit the rapid growth of Hispanic communities in the United States to test whether the presence of local television news affects local civic behavior. Spanish-language local television news programming was available in 25 U.S. metro areas in 2002, up from only 14 areas in 1994. Our estimates indicate that Hispanic voter turnout increased by 5 to 10 percentage points, relative to non-Hispanic voter turnout, in markets where local Spanish-language television news became available. We conclude that the tradeoff between integrated media markets and civic engagement is real. The results of this study provide a basis for the continued pursuit of regulatory policies that promote localism.

Keywords: Voting; Ethnicity Characteristics; Behavior; Local Range; Journalism and News Industry; Media and Broadcasting Industry; United States;

Citation:

Oberholzer-Gee, Felix, and Joel Waldfogel. "Media Markets and Localism: Does Local News en Español Boost Hispanic Voter Turnout?" American Economic Review 99, no. 5 (December 2009).