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Gloria Gennaro (University College London)

12 October 2023 @ 14:00 - 15:15


  • Past event


12 October 2023
14:00 - 15:15
Event Category:
Academic Events

The C-SPAN Effect: Televised Debates, Emotional Appeals, and Political Accountability

Abstract. We study the effect of televised broadcasts of floor debates on the rhetoric and behavior of U.S. Congress Members. First, we show in a differences-in-differences analysis that the introduction of C-SPAN broadcasts in 1979 increased the use of emotional appeals in the House relative to the Senate, where televised floor debates were not introduced until later. Second, we use exogenous variation in C-SPAN channel positioning as an instrument for C-SPAN viewership by Congressional district and show that House Members from districts with exogenously higher C-SPAN viewership are more emotive in floor debates. Looking to electoral pressures as a mechanism, we find the emotionality effect of C-SPAN is strongest in competitive districts. C-SPAN exposure increases the vote share for incumbent Congress Members and citizens’ approval of their job in Congress, and more so among Members who speak more emotionally. Contra accountability models of transparency, C-SPAN has no effect on measures of legislative effort on behalf of constituents, and if anything it reduces a politician’s constituency orientation. We find that local news coverage — that is, mediated rather than direct transparency — has the opposite effect of C-SPAN, increasing legislative effort but with no effect on emotional rhetoric. These results highlight the importance of audience and mediation in the political impacts of higher transparency.