Commercial Television and Voter Information

“Commercial Television and Voter Information”
London School of Economics – Department of Economics
Stockholm University

What is the effect of liberalizing a country’s broadcasting system on the
level of information of its citizens? To analyze this question, we first
construct a model of state monopoly broadcasting where the government
selects the amount of television news coverage of different public policy
outcomes, and then sets public policy and political rents. Voters vote
retrospectively given the news provided. In equilibrium, the incumbent
provides some news coverage, and more so to groups for which reducing policy
uncertainty is more important.

We then introduce a profit-maximizing commercial channel. It provides more
news coverage to groups of voters valuable to advertisers or underprovided
by the state monopoly. We test our predictions on a panel of individuals
interviewed in the elections before and after the entry of commercial TV in
Sweden. We find that people who start watching commercial TV news increase
their level of political knowledge more than those who do not. They also
increase their political participation more. The positive informational
effects are particularly valuable since commercial TV news attracts ex ante
uniformed voters.

JEL Classification: L33