New data on entries and exits of United States daily newspapers from 1869 to 2004 were used to estimate effects on political participation, party vote shares, and electoral competitiveness. The identification strategy exploits the precise timing of these events and allows for the possibility of confounding trends. Analysis focused on the years 1869-1928, and the remaining years of data were used to look at changes over time.
Newspapers were found to have a robust positive effect on political participation, with one additional newspaper increasing both presidential and congressional turnout by approximately 0.3 percentage points. Newspaper competition was not a key driver of turnout: the effect is driven mainly by the first newspaper in a market, and the effect of a second or third paper was significantly smaller. The effect on presidential turnout diminishes after the introduction of radio and television, while the estimated effect on congressional turnout remains similar up to recent years. No evidence was found that partisan newspapers affect party vote shares, with confidence intervals that rule out even moderate-sized effects. No clear evidence was found that newspapers systematically help or hurt incumbents.
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