No More Moderate Politics? Newspaper Reporters and Political Extremes


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Newspapers portray exteme views – Photo by Elvert Barnes

Polarization. Deadlock. Stalemate.

These words are often used in describing modern politics.

Yet, in 1979 sociologist Herbert Gans wrote that one of the news media’s enduring values was  “moderatism” or moderate positions over extremist positions.

Recent apparent political polarization led Michael McCluskey and Young Me Kim of the School of Communication at Ohio State University to investigate how political advocacy groups were portrayed in today’s newspapers.

Their conclusion?

The media changed.

Political News Coverage Today: Political Polarization

In contrast with Gans’ beliefs, McCluskey and Kim found that several factors now influence how reporters report on politics: “political polarization, the rise of advocacy groups and group polarization, and media polarization.” 

The authors state that modern political elites themselves, “have become more polarized. McCluskey told Decoded Science that modern “[p]olitical elites have become more polarized for several reasons: (1) gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts create more Republican and Democratic districts, so that politicians have to cater to the party extremes; (2) those at the political extremes are more easily mobilized to contribute money and time to campaigns; and (3) tighter ideological control by party leaders forces individuals to toe the party line and vote party over conscience.

While political elites may have moved away from the middle, it is unclear if the general public has done so.

The Rise of Advocacy Groups

Another change on the political landscape has been the emergence of highly-organized political advocacy groups.  These groups attract the “most informed and active citizens,” according to the research.  McCluskey and Kim describe the increase in these groups as “an explosion,” and note that a “small group of activists on the left and right may exert influence out of proportion to their numbers.”

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