Freedom of the Press and Public Responsiveness
By Dan Hiaeshutter-Rice, University of Michigan, Stuart Soroka, University of Michigan and Christopher Wlezien, University of Texas, Austin
Public responsiveness to policy is contingent on there being a sufficient amount of clear and accurate information about policy available to citizens. It is of some significance then, that there are increasing concerns about limits being placed on media outlets around the world. We examine the impact of these limits on the public’s ability to respond meaningfully to policy by analyzing cross-national variation in the opinion–policy link. Using new measures on spending preferences from Wave 4 of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, merged with OECD data on government spending and Freedom House measures of press freedom, we assess the role of mass media in facilitating public responsiveness. We find evidence that when media are weak, so too is public responsiveness to policy. These results highlight the critical role that accurate, unfettered media can play in modern representative democracy.