Close monitoring of electoral votes this week as Americans await presidential election results points to the importance of trust and credibility with the news media. Virginia Tech expert Megan Duncan says the media has great power to shape how people see audiences and democracy.

Quoting Duncan

“There’s been a lot of good work this week from news organizations explaining the democratic process, explaining the process that goes into projecting winners, and urging the audience to be patient,” says Duncan.

“News coverage of federal elections tells the story of how the Electoral College works, the importance of participating in the U.S. census to determine how many electoral votes each state gets, and the ways the integrity of the vote is protected.”

“National and local news coverage is also shining a light on the state and local election officials who take their duty seriously and are working long hours to serve their residents— in a pandemic no less. Many of these folks are elected themselves, and it's not uncommon for them to run unopposed, which is a great reminder that municipal and state elections are important too.”

Duncan points to research that finds audiences are more likely to believe news that fits their ideology. “When a news organization audience member aligns with ideologically reports, a news story that goes against the expected could harm its own self-interests. Audiences grant that story more credibility. Researchers call this costly talk.”

“We’ve seen at work the firewall between Fox News’ opinion hosts and the Decision Desk calling the races independently from influence. While this may draw criticism from individual nominees, past research suggests it could help it gain credibility from a wider swath of audience members across the ideological spectrum.” 

About Duncan 

Megan Duncan is an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech School of Communication. Her research focuses on news credibility, political news, digital news, audience engagement, and data journalism. She recently published a paper on the similarities between sports fandom and political tribalism.

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