How local journalism boosts support for fixing crumbling infrastructure

Reading strong local journalism is tied to greater support for funding dams, sewers and other basic infrastructure vital to climate resilience, according to new research from UCLA and Duke University.

A study conducted by UCLA and Duke University has unveiled the pivotal role of local journalism in shaping public opinion and policy decisions regarding infrastructure investment. Published in the journal Political Behavior, the research demonstrates that comprehensive reporting on aging infrastructure significantly enhances voter support for increased spending on vital projects such as dams and sewer systems.

How Strong Local Reporting Influences Infrastructure Spending

Lead author Megan Mullin, a UCLA political scientist specializing in environmental politics, emphasizes the profound impact of local news coverage on public perception and civic engagement. According to Mullin, “Local news reporting builds public support for infrastructure investments.”

The study’s findings reveal a stark contrast in public response to different types of news coverage. Participants who were exposed to detailed, context-rich reporting exhibited up to a 10% increase in electoral support for infrastructure spending compared to those who encountered rudimentary, underdeveloped news stories. Moreover, comprehensive reporting not only bolstered support for spending but also heightened voters’ willingness to hold politicians accountable for infrastructure neglect, potentially affecting electoral outcomes.

The Importance of Context in Local Reporting

As communities grapple with the escalating impacts of climate change, including heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires, the urgency of maintaining and upgrading aging infrastructure becomes increasingly evident. Mullin emphasizes, “Heat, floods, drought, and fire are putting new stress on aging and deteriorating infrastructure, which must be maintained to protect communities against these growing climate risks.”

The decline of local newsrooms, compounded by staffing cuts and a shift towards centralized national news coverage, poses a significant challenge to informed decision-making and civic engagement. Co-author Andrew Trexler, a doctoral candidate at Duke University specializing in political communication, underscores the indispensable role of local newsroom capacity in sustaining democracy. Trexler asserts, “Our study shows that when newsrooms can commit resources to report more information about infrastructure conditions and failure risks, readers notice and are more willing to hold officials accountable for inaction, and more willing to support higher spending.”

In a survey of over 3,300 adults, participants were presented with various news-style articles detailing an upcoming election involving incumbent mayors, challengers, and proposed property tax increases to fund infrastructure projects. The articles ranged from basic, limited-information versions to comprehensive investigative pieces highlighting infrastructure flaws and government neglect. Across all variations, detailed reporting consistently garnered greater support for infrastructure spending among respondents.

The study’s implications underscore the critical role of robust local journalism in fostering informed decision-making, enhancing accountability, and driving meaningful policy change. As communities confront the multifaceted challenges posed by aging infrastructure and climate hazards, investing in the vitality of local news ecosystems emerges as a strategic imperative for safeguarding public health, safety, and resilience.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.