Lucas M. Novaes
Political debates provide voters with a unique opportunity to learn about which candidates best represent their interests. They are complex campaign events that are followed by intensive media analysis and commentary. Despite growing evidence about their impact on voter behavior, little is known about their interrelated role with subsequent news coverage. This paper investigates the impact of an episode of manipulated TV coverage of a major presidential debate on the 1989 Brazilian presidential election. First, we present evidence from an online experiment that the coverage aects the audience’s evaluation of candidates dirently then the actual debate. We then take advantage of a unique natural experiment regarding the geographical distribution of broadcaster-specific TV signal and the timing of election events in order to disentangle the efect of the coverage from the debate itself. By exploring both survey and actual election data, we nd that the left-wing candidate lost 1: 9 8: 6 p.p. in vote share due to unfavorable coverage by the dominant TV network in Brazil. We also provide direct evidence that the mechanism works through a change in voters’ perception of who won the debate. Together, our set of results show how dominant media groups can distort the information generated by presidential debates through its subsequent news coverage, thus hindering the role of debates in informing voters.