Gubernatorial Elections Change Demand for Local Newspapers

Date01 January 2022
Published date01 January 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 50(1) 52 –66
American Politics Research
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211046252
Local newspapers connect Americans to their government by
reporting on the politicians and bureaucratic officials in their
states and communities, and serve as the most powerful
mechanism of accountability in local government (Hopkins
& Pettingill, 2018). However, local newspapers are in a
period of steep decline, with economics and technology usu-
ally accorded the blame (Grieco, 2020; Hindman, 2015).
Since 2006, advertising revenues are down 66.4%, the news-
paper workforce fell by 47%, and weekday circulation
decreased by nearly 40% (Pew Research Center, 2018). A
recent and growing literature shows how severely this trend
endangers American democracy: healthy local newspapers
improve civic engagement (Shaker, 2014), increase voter
turnout (Gentzkow et al., 2011), encourage more candidates
to run for office (Schulhofer-Wohl & Garrido, 2013), increase
knowledge about candidates (Hayes & Lawless, 2015, 2018)
and elected officials (Lyons et al., 2013), and even improves
policy outcomes such as spending on public works projects
(Snyder & Strömberg, 2010) and air pollution (Campa,
2018). Given the substantial benefits of local news and its
precarious status, it is more important than ever to under-
stand which factors influence the demand for local news,
including those that go beyond economics and technology.
We focus on the role of political factors, which are often
overlooked in studies of news consumption.
Some political outcomes can shift demand for local news-
papers: presidential election results stimulate demand for
local newspapers affiliated with the losing party compared to
those of the winning party, likely due to anxiety-fueled
information-seeking produced by losing (Archer, 2018).
While elections for the U.S. House do not affect newspaper
circulations (Archer, 2018), it is unclear whether and how the
results of more prominent state and local elections influence
demand for local news. Gubernatorial campaigns, for exam-
ple, frequently spend millions of dollars in support of their
candidate, and these election results matter greatly for policy
outcomes (Mulvihill, 2018). This suggests voters will not
just pay attention to state-level elections but also monitor
events in their aftermath using local news outlets. If consum-
ers react to wins and losses in the governor’s office by shift-
ing their local news consumption, and if partisans’ reactions
are asymmetrical, those choices could influence the local
news environment and alter that most powerful pathway to
elite monitoring, accountability, and representation. Does
demand for local newspapers change in reaction to wins and
losses by state-level executives—and do these demand
dynamics operate similarly for Republican, Democratic, and
independent news sources?
We isolate the influence of gubernatorial elections on news
consumers’ behavior using original datasets that capture the
APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211046252American Politics ResearchArcher and Darr
1University of Houston, TX, USA
2Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA
Corresponding Author:
Allison M. N. Archer, Department of Political Science, University of
Houston, 3551 Cullen Boulevard, Room 436, Houston, TX 77204-
3011, USA.
Gubernatorial Elections Change
Demand for Local Newspapers
Allison M. N. Archer1 and Joshua P. Darr2
How do partisans react when their candidate wins or loses a gubernatorial election? Previous work shows that when
parties win presidential elections, demand for their affiliated local newspapers decreases relative to the losing party’s
newspapers. However, it is unclear if this negative link extends beyond presidential races into state-level elections. To test
this relationship, we analyze demand for partisan and non-partisan newspapers in Virginia and New Jersey—two states that
hold off-cycle gubernatorial elections with no competition from federal elections—from 1933 to 2005. We find demand for
local newspapers associated with the winning party declines after gubernatorial elections compared to demand for other
newspapers. The results also shed light on whether (and which) winning partisans are disengaging completely or shifting their
consumption to independent newspapers. Taken together, our study suggests that state-level elections significantly influence
local newspaper consumption and adds valuable local context to our understanding of the political dynamics of news demand.
gubernatorial elections, local newspapers, news media demand

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