When Unfamiliarity Breeds Contempt: How Partisan Selective Exposure Sustains Oppositional Media Hostility
By Erik Peterson and Ali Kagalwala, Texas A&M University
Partisans hold unfavorable views of media they associate with the other party. They also avoid out-party news sources. We link these developments and argue that partisans assess out-party media based on negative and inaccurate stereotypes. This means cross-cutting exposure that challenges these misperceptions can improve assessments of out-party media. To support this argument, we use survey-linked web browsing data to show that the public has hostile views of out-party news sources they rarely encounter. We conduct three survey experiments that demonstrate cross-cutting exposure to nonpolitical or neutral political stories, forms of news widely available from online partisan sources, reduces oppositional media hostility. This explains how perceptions of rampant bias from out-party media coexist with more modest differences in the online content of major partisan news outlets. More broadly, we illustrate how negative misperceptions can sustain animus towards an out-group when people avoid encounters with them.