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Political bias is a bias or perceived bias involving the slanting and altering of information to make a political position or political candidates seem more attractive. With a distinct association to media bias, it commonly refers to how a reporter, news organization, or TV show covers political candidates and policy issues.
Bias emerges in a political context when individuals engage an inability or unwillingness to understand a politically opposing point of view. Such bias in individuals may have roots in each individual's traits and thinking styles, and it is not clear whether individuals at particular positions along the political spectrum are more biased than any other individuals.
Political Bias exists beyond simple presentation and understanding of view-points favouring a particular political leader or party, but rather transcends into the readings and interactions among individuals undertaken on a daily basis. The prevalence of political bias has a lasting impact with proven effects on voter behaviour and consequent political outcomes.
With an understanding of Political Bias, comes acknowledgement of its violation of expected political neutrality. Lack of Political Neutrality is the result of political bias and further the control mechanism to reduce political bias.
Types of bias in a political context
Concision bias: Refers to perspective reporting that covers views that are quickly explained ad lends little to no time to unconventional, difficult to explain views. Concision bias aims to increase communication by selectively focusing on the important information and eliminating redundancy. In a political context this can mean the omission of seemingly unnecessary details, however, those of which can actually constitute bias in itself, depending which information is determined unnecessary. Political opinions are often reduced to a simple party understanding or belief system, with other challenging information excluded in its presentation.
Coverage bias: When topics and issues are addresses by political parties to different extents. This makes certain issues seem more prevalent and presenting ideas as more important and necessary. In a political atmosphere this is relevant in the presentation of policies and the issues that they are designed to address, along with the actual coverage time from media and politicians
Confirmation bias: a cognitive bias that favours and seeks information which affirms pre-existing beliefs and opinions. When set in political atmosphere, individuals with likeminded political beliefs will seek and affirm their opinions, discounting contradictory information A recent meta-analysis attempted to compare levels of confirmation bias among liberals and conservatives in the United States and found that both groups were roughly equally biased.
False consensus bias: Exists when the normalisation of an individual's opinions, beliefs and values are believed to be common. This bias exists in a group setting where the collective group opinion is attributed to the wider population, with little to now inter group challenges. This is the basis of political party formation and engages the ongoing attempt to normalise these views within the wider population with little recognition to the different beliefs outside the party.
Speculative content: When stories focus on what has the potential to occur with speculative phrasing such as “may”, “what if” and “could” rather than focusing on the factual evidence of what has and/or definitely will occur. This further speculative bias when the piece is not specifically labelled as an opinion and analysis article. This occurs in a political context particularly in the introduction of policies or the addressing of opposing policies. This bias allows parties to make their policies more appealing and appear to address issues more directly, by speculating the positive and negative outcomes.
Gatekeeping bias: This type of bias exists through the use of ideological selection, deselection and/or omission of stories based on individualised opinions. Similarly related to agenda bias, existing primarily when the focus is on politicians and how they choose to cover and present preferred policy discussions and issues.
Political neutrality is the counteraction for political bias, looking to ensure the ability of public servants to carry out any official duties in an impartial manner, relative to their political beliefs. In areas such as media coverage, legal and bureaucratic decisions and academic teachings, the need for taking corrective action against politically biased actions is the foundation of political neutrality enforcement. Research suggests that political neutrality is favoured over political bias, with Republicans, Independents and Democrats' preferring to get their news sources from politically neutral media. Individuals responses to political bias and motivations are challenged when the engagement of bias furthers and assists their political party or ideology. The denunciation of political neutrality itself elicits a more aggravated response, directly controlling a normative acceptance of Political Bias. Limitations of political neutrality exist regarding media coverage and generate accusations for any actions or messages perceived as politically biased. Biases remain embedded in contextual intergroup competition, meaning political considerations based on action or message can challenge specific ideologies or further enhance and advance an ideology.
Political bias and framing
Political bias exists primarily in the concept of framing. Framing is the social construction of political or social movements in a positive or negative representation. Political bias in this context is political leaders and parties presenting information to highlight a problem and offering solutions that favour their own political position. This makes their personal position appear more favourable and their policies as the expected course of action. The framing effect looks at the situations in which people are only presented with options within two frames, one presented negatively and the other positively. The framing effect is increasingly significant in opinion polls designed to encourage specific organisations that are commissioned to poll. If reliable, credible and sufficient information is provided, this bias can be significantly reduced. Framing further looks at the impact of slanting in political campaigning and its potential impact of the distribution of political power where political bias is present. Through understanding of Framing as an omnipresent process used in analysis to discern connections between aspects of reality and convey an interpretation of opinions that may not be entirely accurate.
Evidence of political bias in search engines
Opinions and perceptions of political issues and candidates are often shaped by search results from search engines like google. Google algorithms are not designed to provide balanced or equal representation of controversial issues. Search engines influence democracy due to the potential distrust of media, increasing online searches for political information and understanding. Looking specifically at America, the Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 to avoid political bias in all licensed Broadcasting mediums. Within the context of polarizing topics such as political bias, the top search results can play a significant role in shaping opinions. Through the use of a bias quantification framework, bias can be measured within the political bias by rank, within the search system but further address the sources of the bias through the input data and ranking system. Within the context of information queries, the search results are determined through a ranking system which in the case of topics such as Politics, can return politically biased search results. This bias present in the search results can be a direct result of either biased data that collaborates the ranking system or because of the structure of the ranking system itself. This questionable nature of search results raises questions of impact on users and to what degree the ranking system can impact political opinions and beliefs, which can directly translate into voter behavior. This can also affirm or encourage biased data within the google search results. Whilst research has shown that users do not place exclusive trust on the information provided by search engines, studies have shown that individuals that are undecided politically are susceptible to be manipulated by bias relative to political candidates and the light in which their policies and actions are presented and conveyed. In the quantification of political bias, both the input data for search results and further the ranking system in which they are presented to the user encapsulate bias to varying degrees.
There is further distinctive political bias present in social media where the algorithm which structures user content, facilitates confirmation bias. This involves presenting political information dependent on common searches and focuses of the users which further re-affirms political bias and reduces exposure to politically neutral content.
Determining the difference between content and source bias is a significant focus of determining the role of political bias in search engines. This focus looks directly at the actual content of the information present and whether it is purposefully selective in the information presented, or rather whether the source of the information is projecting personalised opinions relative to their political opinions.
Political bias in the media
Media bias highlights political bias in the reporting of political topics and representation of politicians. Where a reporter emphasises particular points of view and conveys selected information to further their own political view, they present biased information favouring their own political opinion. Determining media biases relative to political positioning, there are distinctive regulations which protect against the fabrication of information. The media, rather, alters the representation of information to promote political positions. Political opinions, which directly impact voter behavior and decisions, can be altered under media bias due to the failed representation of information. This form of political bias has continuing impacts when used to change opinions of others. Where media remains a powerful information source for political information, it can create political bias in the informational representation of policy issues.
An example of quantification of political bias in the media is a propaganda model, a concept introduced by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. It is a political economy model, looking at the “manufacturing” of political policies through manipulation of mass media. This model further looked at the capital funding of Media outlets and their ownership, which often relates political ties.
Political bias in the media is also discussed in how social leaders discuss political issues. To determine the existence of political bias, agenda determination is used. Agenda determination is designed to provide an understanding of the agenda behind presentation of political issues and attempt to determine the political bias that is present.
Within a 2002 study by Jim A. Kuypers : Press Bias and Politics: How the Media Frame Controversial Issues, Kuypers looks at the omission of left leaning points of view from the mainstream print press. Kuypers determined that Politicians would receive positive press coverage only when covering and delivering topics that aligned with press-supported beliefs. This meant the press were engaging in bias within the media through their coverage and selection/release of political information which was challenging the neutral conveyance of political messages.
David Baron similarly presents a game-theoretic model of media behaviour, suggesting that mass media outlets only hire journalists whose writing is aligned with their political positions. This engages false consensus bias, as beliefs are determined to be common due to the surrounding of aligned views. This effectively heightens the political bias within media representation of information.
Attempts to counteract political bias
The Media Research Center is an American media watch group, with specific focus on the presence of politically biased content. Its stated mission is to “expose and neutralize the propaganda arm of the left”. The Media Research Center currently operates numerous projects aimed at calling attention to political bias in the media and ensuring it is correctly identified. More specifically, MRC releases a newsletter called CyberAlert aimed at profiling any inaccurate reports about politics within the news media, specific to America. It is written by editor Brent Baker, who further addresses media articles as potentially biased articles by labeling them BIASALERT. The analysis of political bias in the media is determined through collaboration with Media Reality Check, which specifically aims to combat liberal bias and reporting. In 2005, Media Research Center developed a website called NewsBusters, which acts as a blog for analysis of stories where political bias has been flagged. It further operates on a more personal note, not only calling out bias in articles, but further challenging the authors of said articles as to their politically biased writing. Further in the United States, bias now needs to be disclosed as a conflict of interest when addressing political parties, candidates and policies. This addresses that individuals will hold different political opinions and have vested interests in different political topics, however that degree of bias must be disclosed so that the conflict of interest and presence of bias is understood.
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