The Political Legacy of Entertainment TV

Authors: Ruben Durante and Andrea Tesei

American Economic Review, Vol. 109, No 7, 2497-2530, July, 2019

We study the political impact of commercial television in Italy exploiting the staggered introduction of Berlusconi's private TV network, Mediaset, in the early 1980s. We find that individuals with early access to Mediaset all-entertainment content were more likely to vote for Berlusconi's party in 1994, when he first ran for office. The effect persists for five elections and is driven by heavy TV viewers, namely the very young and the elderly. Regarding possible mechanisms, we find that individuals exposed to entertainment TV as children were less cognitively sophisticated and civic-minded as adults, and ultimately more vulnerable to Berlusconi's populist rhetoric.