Moderate voices muted in political news

Moderatism or Polarization? Representation of Advocacy Groups’ Ideology in Newspapers

From Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly

While commentators and scholars argue that political groups have become more polarized in the US, this study finds that moderate political groups are not as well covered in newspaper articles as more radical right and left-wing groups. “Extremes are more intuitively novel, entertaining, and colorful, representing another common news value,” wrote the authors “Moderate voices may be more difficult to portray as exciting than extreme voices.”

208 political advocacy groups that represented a range of political ideologies were examined as they were represented across 118 newspapers. The authors found that groups that expressed more polarized opinions on political issues were mentioned in larger newspapers, appeared earlier in articles, and were mentioned in more paragraphs. The authors wrote, “More people had the opportunity to note those groups, fueling perceptions of those groups as important or legitimate.”


Scholars and commentators argue that the United States has become politically polarized in recent years, with news content itself favoring polarized views. If true, this represents a radical shift from Gans’s enduring news value of moderatism. By examining 208 advocacy groups’ ideology and their representation in 118 newspapers, this study revisits Gans’s moderatism argument and investigates polarization in news content. Analysis demonstrates that moderate groups had less prominence within articles, with no differences in tone. Polarization may offer a higher news value by presenting inherent conflict and a means for journalistic balance.

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Article details
Michael McCluskey, PhD, & Young Mie Kim, PhD (2012). Moderatism or Polarization? Representation of Advocacy Groups’ Ideology in Newspapers Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly : 10.1177/1077699012455385

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