In the APSA Public Scholarship Program, graduate students in political science produce summaries of new research in the American Political Science Review. This piece, written by Eun A Jo, covers the new article by Erik Peterson and Ali Kagalwala, Texas A&M University, “When Unfamiliarity Breeds Contempt: How Partisan Selective Exposure Sustains Oppositional Media Hostility”
People seek out media that reifies their partisan beliefs—and tells them they are right. With the growing ease of access and diversity of platforms, this tendency means that the media landscape is ever polarized. Sources like Fox News and MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, all have reputations for their right- or left-leaning coverages. Often, people cast aside media outlets that do not share their partisan views as “fake news.”
In their new article for the American Political Science Review, Erik Peterson and Ali Kagalwala seek to better understand this phenomenon and, more specifically, what we can do about it. They argue that because the public so rarely encounters or seeks “oppositional” media, negative and inaccurate stereotypes about them—as unreliable, unfair, or even dangerous—thrive. This, in turn, deepens the partisan divides in media consumption and sustains the very echo chambers in which biases about oppositional media persist. This is why, the authors find, cross-cutting exposure is crucial: coverage by oppositional media that challenges such stereotypes can reduce the public’s hostility toward oppositional media and dampen the effects of a polarized media environment.
The authors conduct three survey experiments, using Fox News and the Huffington Post as representative partisan media outlets. In the first experiment, they study how people respond to non-political coverage—such as stories on arts and culture, sports, or travel. By comparing how people respond to the same non-political coverage from different partisan outlets, the authors find that non-political coverage can improve views of oppositional media, but has little impact on how they perceive their preferred partisan media.
In the second experiment, the authors further investigate how people respond to different types of coverage by partisan media—from non-political to political; and from neutral to hostile in political coverage. By comparing how people respond to these coverages from a given media source, the authors demonstrate that exposure to oppositional media only reduces hostility when the substantive content of its coverage is either non-political or neutral—that is, when it challenges their prejudices. Importantly, political coverage from oppositional media that is hostile to their partisan beliefs does little to reduce preexisting hostility.“(…) While a lack of exposure to oppositional media is a problem, not all exposure is helpful“
In the third experiment, the authors explore how people assess the stories they encounter from oppositional media. Consistent with prior research, people with partisan beliefs tend to process stories in a biased manner. Yet, the authors find that, despite this tendency, people can tell when a story from oppositional media is more or less slanted; and when they encounter neutral coverage that defies their preexisting biases, it can meaningfully transform their views of the oppositional media.
Together, the three experiments provide timely insights about partisan media. It demonstrates that, while a lack of exposure to oppositional media is a problem, not all exposure is helpful. Only those stories that challenge the stereotypes of oppositional media will reduce partisan hostility and, potentially, undercut the cycle of media polarization.
- Eun A Jo is a PhD student in the Government Department at Cornell University, specializing in international relations and comparative politics. She is interested in political rhetoric, emotions, and the domestic politics of international reconciliation, with a focus on East Asia. Currently, Eun A is working on two papers, exploring the drivers of South Korean responses to (1) Japanese apologies and (2) Chinese economic retaliation. She is the 2019-2020 Director’s Fellow of the Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell and the editor of The Asan Forum, a bimonthly journal of the Seoul-based think tank Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Prior to her study, Eun A worked as an advisor in international security at the South Korean Permanent Mission to the United Nations. She holds a BA from University College Utrecht and an MPP from Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University.
- Article details: American Political Science Review , First View , pp. 1 – 14, “When Unfamiliarity Breeds Contempt: How Partisan Selective Exposure Sustains Oppositional Media Hostility” by y Erik Peterson and Ali Kagalwala, Texas A&M University
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