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Raising the floor or closing the gap? How media choice and media content impact political knowledge

Leeper, Thomas J. (2020) Raising the floor or closing the gap? How media choice and media content impact political knowledge. Political Communication, 37 (5). 719 - 740. ISSN 1058-4609

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Identification Number: 10.1080/10584609.2020.1753866


Mass media are frequently cited as having the potential to inform the public, raising knowledge levels and reducing political knowledge gaps between citizens. But media are also seen as a force for segmentation, disengagement, and widening differences between citizens. If media have no effect on political knowledge, gaps between the engaged and disengaged persist regardless of who is exposed to news because no one learns. But gaps can also persist even if everyone learns from the news, particularly if learning effects are heterogeneous across those inclined and disinclined to seek out news and/or across environments that consist of different media alternatives. Yet past research on political communication has not sufficiently linked media choice to debates about possibly heterogeneous effects of media exposure on political knowledge levels. The present study contributes a novel and large-scale choice-based experiment on knowledge of the ongoing crisis in Syria that finds media effects are relatively homogeneous across those with different media preferences and across different media environments. This suggests that under most conditions–even when everyone learns from the news–knowledge gaps between the politically engaged and disengaged are widened or at least sustained after incidental exposure to politics. While closing such gaps may be impossible, the results have important implications for understanding how citizens learn about politics and how to study learning from self-selected media experiences.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
J Political Science > JC Political theory
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 29 Jun 2020 09:27
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 02:51

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