Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Both Republicans and Democrats exhibit a strong tendency to consume news stories depicting disunity in the outparty

Fight Clubs: Media Coverage of Party (Dis)unity and Citizens’ Selective Exposure to It. John V. Kane. Political Research Quarterly, https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912919827106

Abstract: News media play a key role in communicating information about political parties to the American public. However, our understanding of how media depict relations between elites and the broader party coalitions remains limited. Moreover, while research suggests that forced exposure to such information can affect political attitudes, it remains unclear whether citizens are willing to selectively expose themselves to such communications. To address these two interrelated questions, this study first employs a content analysis to explore patterns in news coverage of inter- and intra-party relations throughout the Obama presidency. Next, two survey experiments investigate the degree to which such relations affect citizens’ self-exposure to such information. Taken together, the analyses uncover two important asymmetries. First, throughout Obama’s presidency, mass media depicted a Republican coalition virtually always against the president, yet substantial discord within the Democratic Party. Second, though partisans show no propensity to consume news depicting inparty unity (vs. disunity), both Republicans and Democrats exhibit a strong tendency to consume news stories depicting disunity in the outparty. Insofar as partisans’ self-exposure to such information is a necessary precondition for attitudinal and behavioral change, these findings have notable implications for how mass media stand to shape partisanship in the United States.

Keywords: media, self-exposure, partisanship, party unity, cognitive dissonance, schadenfreude

The survey experiments reveal a second asymmetry. Specifically, the experimental results indicate that, while partisans were nearly equally likely to select news arti-cles discussing inparty unity (vs. news articles discussing inparty disunity), both Republicans and Democrats were far more likely to select a news story depicting outparty disunity (vs. outparty unity or the control condition)—that is, the story in which the president was reported to have alienated a key group in his party’s base. The finding concerning inparty members’ behavior deviates somewhat from the “cognitive dissonance” argument, which would suggest that partisans will avoid self-exposure to information that challenges their existing beliefs and loyalties (Festinger 1962). At the same time, the findings regarding outparty members’ behavior offer additional support for the notion that partisans seek out information that is likely to result in “political schaden-freude” (Combs et al. 2009; Hareli and Weiner 2002).

Again, in light of research which argues that beliefs about the parties’ relations with groups are consequential for citizens’ partisan orientations (Green, Palmquist, and Schickler 2002), as well as recent research on how information about partisan polarization and partisan infighting can affect citizens’ policy attitudes and willingness to compromise (Druckman, Peterson, and Slothuus 2013; Groeling 2010; Kane 2016b), the findings of the present study come with important implications for the manner by which mass media can shape partisanship

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