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Will Conservative Talk Radio Help Decide This Election?

Does Talk Radio Set the Agenda or Just Amplify Other Media?


Talk Show Host Michael Savage

Talk Show Host Michael Savage

Photo Credit: © Talk Radio Networks
Does conservative talk radio influence listeners or just confirm what they already think? Does talk radio set the agenda or just magnify and amplify other media?

Conservatism Dominates Talk Radio

The general narrative often heard in the media is that talk radio is mostly conservative and it's not fair. Political opponents pine for the days when "The Fairness Doctrine" forced radio and TV stations to present equal time to opposing viewpoints. The Fairness Doctrine was tossed out by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987 during the Reagan Administration and it's one of the reasons people like Rush Limbaugh were able to take to the airwaves without radio station management fretting over how it would balance out his content.

The American Center for Progress, a progressive-leaning website, quoted a 2007 Arbitron reports as saying "91% of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive."

So, all this conservative radio out there - does it matter in elections?

Experts and Researchers Weigh In

Fred V. Lucas, author of The Right Frequency: The Story of the Talk Radio Giants Who Shook Up the Political and Media Establishment (Review) is not sure. "The medium's sway on presidential races is hard to determine. The drumbeat of conservative radio hosts didn't stop the elections of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. This year could be different. Conservative voters are unhappy with President Obama, but are not enthusiastic about Republican nominee Mitt Romney."

A study printed in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research examined political talk radio during the 1996 presidential election and its effect on the attitudes of listeners. It reached several conclusions including this: the impact of political talk radio over time is small.

If talk radio does have a real effect on voters, maybe it comes more from what topics get discussed rather than the opinions themselves. In July of 2009, radio and TV host Bill Moyers wrote:

With large and devoted audiences, the topics the hosts focus on may significantly impact the national discussion. Media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson noted during the last election cycle that talk radio may well wield the power to set the agenda: "When something gets into mainstream media, it has a half-life of about 30 seconds. Where something that moves into talk radio can have a half-life of two or three years."

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