How Elections Influence Voters’ Media Consumption
There’s a mountain of political research on voters’ media engagement immediately prior to an election, but far less is known about their news consumption right afterward.
A recent study by researchers from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) and Kent State University School of Emerging Media and Technology (EMAT) sheds light on voters’ media use in the wake of their candidate’s win or loss in an election.
The team — UFCJC doctoral student Eliana DuBosar and Public Relations faculty Myiah Hutchens and Jay Hmielowski, and EMAT Director Michael Beam — wanted to find out if people’s media use following US presidential elections was influenced by whether a preferred candidate won or lost. To that end, they analyzed survey data about the media consumption of 357 adults with similar backgrounds and interests both before and after the 2004, 2012 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections.
Two key findings emerged: Those who selected the winning candidate leaned into media that painted their victory in a favorable light. On the flip side, individuals who picked the losing candidate didn’t change their news media consumption at all. They neither distanced themselves from information that supported their views nor actively sought out opposing views to better understand the winning side.
It’s long been theorized that winning voters revel in their party’s victory by eagerly consuming media that matches their views—a response known in political science as basking in reflected glory, or BIRGing. Although the study supports that hypothesis, it’s unclear if the motive for this is identity-based, emotional or something else. Nonetheless, the findings suggest that passionate appeals may resonate more after an election among the political base that is victorious, and political organizers of winning campaigns could harness this drive to strengthen voter retention and loyalty.
On the other hand, the study’s results fail to support two theories regarding how voters on the losing side might respond. The first suggests that individuals may avoid information that paints their candidate and party’s positions in a positive light—a reaction referred to as cutting off reflected failures, or CORFing. The second theory, referred to as information utility, stipulates that people will seek out news from opposing outlets following their candidate’s loss. But researchers of this latest study found no change in the type of news such voters sought out post-defeat, which suggests that, in their case, the best political strategy would be to focus on re-engaging and re-motivating them.
For political strategists, this study underscores the importance of maintaining positive messaging and voter engagement after an election win or loss. Voters, regardless of the candidates they backed, will continue to follow their preferred news outlets. As the study highlights, however, the opportunity for voter engagement should be greatest for winning campaigns because their supporters will seek out more information about their victory.
The original article, “Celebrating Wins, Lamenting Losses in the Aftermath of Presidential Elections. Examining BIRGing, CORFing, Information Utility, and Identity Repair,” was published online in the Journal of Media Psychology on Oct. 6, 2023.
Authors: Eliana DuBosar, Jay D. Hmielowski, Myiah J. Hutchens, and Michael A. Beam
This summary was written by Gisele McAuliffe.