Higher volume, same tune: How political talk radio reacts to events
Clara Vandeweerdt is a PhD candidate at the MIT Political Science Department with an interest in public opinion, quantitative research methods, and climate politics. Her recent work includes a project on political talk radio, survey experiments on group-based political thinking, and a model of global climate opinion. She has degrees in international relations and in experimental psychology from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and from the University of Leuven.
In mainstream media, real-world events strongly influence the agenda--the political topics that media elites talk about. However, it is an open question whether events are as powerful at shaping the discussion in partisan media--and whether they change anything at all about the (ideologically motivated) way topics are framed. In this paper, I address this question by looking at talk radio speech before and after newsworthy events. Using natural language processing combined and crowd-sourcing, I analyze almost 1.5 million hours of talk radio, coming from hundreds of political talk radio shows--by far the largest amount of content processed in a radio study to date. I find that events create big spikes in the number of times a relevant political topic is mentioned on talk radio. However, events are not nearly as effective at closing the gap between liberal and conservative shows in how those topics are framed. If events turn up the volume of the discussion, without changing how sorted that discussion is, they could turn a shared experience into a polarizing moment.
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