Changing Minds or Changing Channels?: Partisan News in an Age of Choice

University of Chicago Press
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We live in an age of media saturation, where with a few clicks of the remote—or mouse—we can tune in to programming where the facts fit our ideological predispositions. But what are the political consequences of this vast landscape of media choice? Partisan news has been roundly castigated for reinforcing prior beliefs and contributing to the highly polarized political environment we have today, but there is little evidence to support this claim, and much of what we know about the impact of news media come from studies that were conducted at a time when viewers chose from among six channels rather than scores.

Through a series of innovative experiments, Kevin Arceneaux and Martin Johnson show that such criticism is unfounded. Americans who watch cable news are already polarized, and their exposure to partisan programming of their choice has little influence on their political positions. In fact, the opposite is true: viewers become more polarized when forced to watch programming that opposes their beliefs. A much more troubling consequence of the ever-expanding media environment, the authors show, is that it has allowed people to tune out the news: the four top-rated partisan news programs draw a mere three percent of the total number of people watching television.

Overturning much of the conventional wisdom, Changing Minds or Changing Channels? demonstrate that the strong effects of media exposure found in past research are simply not applicable in today’s more saturated media landscape.
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About the author

Kevin Arceneaux is associate professor of political science and an affiliate of the Institute for Public Affairs at Temple University. Martin Johnson is professor in the Department of Political Science and directs the Media and Communication Research Lab at the University of California, Riverside.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Aug 27, 2013
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Pages
224
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ISBN
9780226047447
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Language
English
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Genres
Language Arts & Disciplines / Journalism
Performing Arts / Television / General
Political Science / General
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Public opinion pools have become staples of contemporary political reporting, and most national news organizations have sophisticated in-house polling operations. The increased number and quality of polls conducted and reported by the press give the public a chance to help see the agendas of campaigns and define the meaning of elections.

Yet competition and the need for fast responses to events often lead news organizations to misuse polls in a way that diminishes rather than enhances democracy. Polls can shape public opinion as well as describe it; they can set the news agenda and influence the coverage of political events in ways hostile to a constructive dialogue between citizens and their leaders.

In this volume, media specialist and well-known reporters provide a comprehensive survey of the problems and possibilities of polling by media organizations in the 1990s and beyond. Thomas Mann and Gary Orren analyze the strengths and weaknesses of media polls and their impact on American politics. Everett Carll Ladd and John Benson discuss the extraordinary growth of polling in news organizations for the past two decades. Kathleen Frankovic addresses the tension between the needs of news organizations for quick results and the need to preserve the standards of survey research. Henry Brady and Gary Orren examine the most serious methodological problems with news media polls. Michael Kagay explores the sources of well-publicized variability in poll findings. Michael Traugott considers the complicated question of how polls influence the public and whether their effects are benign or harmful. Finally, E. J. Dionne, Jr. examines media organizations' obsession with polls and the impact polls have on reporters.

The authors offer recommendations for improving the conduct and use of media polls so that citizens can make better informed and enlightened decisions about the public agenda.

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