Discussion paper

DP17203 Identity-Based Elections

We study how media choice driven by political identity can influence electoral results. Citizens gather information from mainstream news but also from possibly partisan media sources which filter news in particular predetermined ways. We assume that citizens process all information they receive correctly but choose their own media sources in a behavioral self-serving way to try to preserve their political faith/identity.
That is, they attempt to rationally counteract mainstream news that they might view as unfavorable. In the baseline setup, we assume that citizens on either side of the political spectrum are exposed to different extents to mainstream news, as in the U.S.
case. This endogenous media choice generates an electoral advantage for the less exposed side, which can turn into a sure electoral victory even for the wrong candidate in a democracy. Results are robust to forms of media distrust and are stronger if citizens have biased priors. In contrast, we show that, in illiberal democracies, where the government controls the media, official media propaganda works only if citizens
are unaware of its bias, but otherwise backfires entirely without censorship of other media.


Herrera, H and R Sethi (2022), ‘DP17203 Identity-Based Elections‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 17203. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp17203