Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Power of the Press

It seems pretty obvious that our behavior would be different depending on whether or not we are in public or in private.  For example, I often find that when I go for a run in the park by my house, I run faster when there are lots of people around than when the park is deserted (say on a Wednesday morning)... basically, I am shamed into pushing myself harder because I don't want to appear slow or out of shape.  This same principle applies to politicians, except, for them, the other onlookers are usually news reporters, and if there are no reporters (or no news stories reaching their home districts), then the politicians behave differently.  Rather than being shamed into trying harder, the politicians do what you'd expect, or what I do when no one is around to see me run... they slack off.  A study that I came across via the Barking up the wrong tree blog concludes:

"Congressmen who are less covered by the local press work less for their constituencies: they are less likely to stand witness before congressional hearings, to serve on constituency-oriented committees (perhaps), and to vote against the party line. Finally, this congressional behavior affects policy. Federal spending is lower in areas where there is less press coverage of the local members of congress."

This is particularly interesting and perhaps troubling as newspapers (especially local newspapers) find themselves unable to stay afloat financially, and are thus cutting back on constituency-oriented political coverage.


  1. Well then we should treat our politicans more like socialites with a constant paparazzi crew in tow.

  2. If only the public were as interested in politics as they are in what Miley Cyrus orders when she goes to Starbucks.