Communication, Persuasion, and the Conditioning Value of Selective Exposure: Like Minds May Unite and Divide but They Mostly Tune Out
Political observers of all types often express concerns that Americans are dangerously polarized on political issues and are, in part due to the availability of opinionated niche news programming (e.g., ideological cable, radio, and Internet news sources), developing more entrenched political positions. However, these accounts often overlook the fact that the rise of niche news has been accompanied by the expansion of entertainment options and the ability to screen out political news altogether. We examine the polarizing effects of opinionated political talk shows by integrating the Elaboration Likelihood Model of attitude development into our own theoretical model of selective media exposure. We employ a novel experimental design that gives participants agency to choose among news and entertainment programming by including treatments that allow participants to select the programming they view. The results from two studies show that ideological shows do indeed have the power to polarize political attitudes, especially among individuals who possess strong motivations to craft counterarguments. However, the polarizing force of cable news is diminished considerably when individuals are given the option to tune out.