Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-85872-4 - post-broadcast democracy : How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections - by Markus Prior

Post-Broadcast Democracy

How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections

Seventy years ago, commercial television did not exist, and print media were the most widely available source for news. Thirty-five years ago, television was universally available, but people had the choice of only a few channels. Today, the average viewer can choose from hundreds of channels, including several twenty-four-hour news channels. News is on cell phones, on iPods, and online; it has become a ubiquitous presence in modern society. The purpose of this book is to examine systematically how these differences in access and form of media affect political behavior. Using experiments and new survey data, it shows how changes in the media environment reverberate through the political system, affecting news exposure, political learning, turnout, and voting behavior. Before television, news could be difficult to understand for people with low reading skills. Only television, by virtue of being both easy to follow and hard to resist, drew the less educated into the news audience. In the 1970s and 1980s, more people watched television news than at any other time, but only because they had little choice. Today, cable television and the Internet offer people much more control and choice. To news junkies, politics has become a candy store. Others avoid news altogether. Political involvement has become more unequal, and elections more polarized as a result.

Markus Prior is an assistant professor of politics and public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University. The dissertation on which this book is based won the E. E. Schattschneider Award, awarded by the American Political Science Association, for the best dissertation in American government.


Series Editors
Dennis Chong, Northwestern University
James H. Kuklinksi, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion and Political Psychology publishes innovative research from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives on the mass public foundations of politics and society. Research in the series focuses on the origins and influence of mass opinion; the dynamics of information and deliberation; and the emotional, normative, and instrumental bases of political choice. In addition to examining psychological processes, the series explores the organization of groups, the association between individual and collective preferences, and the impact of institutions on beliefs and behavior.

Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion and Political Psychology is dedicated to furthering theoretical and empirical research on the relationship between the political system and the attitudes and actions of citizens.

Books in the series are listed on the page following the Index.


How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections

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© Markus Prior 2007

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no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2007

Printed in the United States of America

A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Prior, Markus, 1974–
Post-broadcast democracy : how media choice increases inequality in political involvement and polarizes elections / Markus Prior.
   p. cm. – (Cambridge studies in public opinion and political psychology)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 13: 978-0-521-85872-4 (hardback)
ISBN 13: 978-0-521-67533-8 (pbk.)
1. Mass media – Political aspects. 2. Mass media – Influence.
I. Title. II. Series.
P95.8.P756 2007
302.23 – dc22      2006025608

ISBN 978-0-521-85872-4 hardback
ISBN 978-0-521-67533-8 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for
the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or
third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication
and does not guarantee that any content on such
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Für Mama und Papa


List of Tables page xi
List of Figures xiii
Acknowledgments xv
1   Introduction 1
2   Conditional Political Learning 27
  Part 1: The Participatory Effects of Media Choice
3   Broadcast Television, Political Knowledge, and Turnout 55
  appendix to chapter 3: measuring political knowledge, nes 1952–1968 92
4   From Low Choice to High Choice: The Impact of Cable Television and Internet on News Exposure, Political Knowledge, and Turnout 94
  appendix to chapter 4: description of knowledge measures 138
5   From Low Choice to High Choice: Does Greater Media Choice Affect Total News Consumption and Average Turnout? 142
  Part 2: The Political Effects of Media Choice
6   Broadcast Television, Partisanship, and the Incumbency Advantage 163
7   Partisan Polarization in the High-Choice Media Environment 214
8   Divided by Choice: Audience Fragmentation and Political Inequality in the Post-Broadcast Media Environment 255
References 289
Index 309

List of Tables

2.1.   News Exposure in Low-Choice and High-Choice Media Environments page 42
2.2.   Seven Hypotheses 52
3.1.   Television and Political Knowledge, by Education 77
3.2.   Television, Political Knowledge, and Political Interest 79
3.3.   The Effect of Television on Turnout 85
4.1.   The Effect of Relative Entertainment Preference on News Exposure (N&E Survey) 108
4.2.   The Effect of Relative Entertainment Preference on Changes in Political Knowledge (N&E Survey) 114
4.3.   The Effect of Relative Entertainment Preference on Turnout (N&E Survey) 121
4.4.   The Effect of Relative Entertainment Preference on Political Knowledge (NES Surveys) 126
4.5.   The Effect of Relative Entertainment Preference on Turnout (NES and Pew Surveys) 127
5.1.   The Effect of Increasing Cable Penetration on Turnout (DMA Data Set) 146
6.1.   Partisanship and Level of Education, 1952–1970 165
6.2.   The Effect of Television on the Role of Partisanship in Voting Behavior 167
6.3.   The Impact of Television on General and Congressional Knowledge 182
6.4.   The Impact of Local Television on Voting for the Incumbent 191
6.5.   The Growth of Television in Congressional Districts 197
6.6.   Effect of Local Television on District-Level Incumbency Advantage 201
6.7.   The Pro-Incumbent Effect of Television in Different Types of Congressional Districts 205
7.1.   Estimating Partisan Voting Scores for News and Entertainment Fans 235
7.2.   The Effect of Cable Television on Correspondence of Presidential and House Elections 241
A7.1.   Complete Estimates of Partisan Voting Scores in N&E Survey 252
A7.2.   Complete Estimates of Partisan Voting Scores in NES 1996 253

List of Figures

1.1.   The Media Environment, 1920–2005 13
1.2.   Television Choice, News Viewing, Partisan Impact, and Electoral Volatility 16
1.3.   Political Interest, Trust in Government, and Confidence in the Press 20
2.1.   Program Choice in the Low-Choice/High-Choice Experiment 35
2.2.   Political Learning in Low- and High-Choice Environments 46
3.1.   Preferred Medium, 1959–1971 60
3.2.   Primary Sources for News, 1959–1992 71
3.3.   The Effect of Television on Political Knowledge 81
3.4.   The Effect of Television on Political Interest 82
3.5.   The Effect of Television on Turnout 86
4.1.   Cable Access and the Network News Audience 100
4.2.   Relative Entertainment Preference (Combined Measure) 106
4.3.   News Exposure and Relative Entertainment Preference 109
4.4.   Political Knowledge and Relative Entertainment Preference 115
4.5.   Turnout and Relative Entertainment Preference 122
4.6.   Pew and NES Replications, Average Effects on Political Knowledge and Turnout 128
4.7.   The Demographic Predictors of Relative Entertainment Preference 132
5.1.   The Effect of Increasing Cable Penetration on Turnout, 1972–1990 148
5.2.   Total Television News Consumption, 1983–2004 152
6.1.   The Effect of Television on Turnout at Different Levels of Partisanship 169
6.2.   The Effect of Television on Knowledge of House Incumbents among the Less Educated 189
6.3.   The Effect of Local Television on Voting for the Incumbent 193
6.4.   The Aggregate Effect of Television on the Incumbency Advantage, 1948–1970 202
7.1.   Partisanship among Voters, 1952–2004 219
7.2.   Partisanship among Voters and Nonvoters, 1952–2004 222
7.3.   Differences in Partisanship between Voters and Nonvoters, 1952–2004 224
7.4.   Strength of Party Identification and Relative Entertainment Preference 227
7.5.   Turnout in House Elections by Strength of Partisan Identification, 1952–2004 229
7.6.   The Growing Turnout Gap between Strong Partisans and Independents 230
7.7.   The Effect of Cable Television on the Correspondence of Presidential and House Elections, 1972–1988 243


This project began as a Ph.D. dissertation in the Communication Department at Stanford a long time ago. I had the very good fortune of a stellar dissertation committee. In four remarkably different ways, Shanto Iyengar, Paul Sniderman, David Brady, and Mo Fiorina have challenged me to defend my arguments more convincingly and state them more precisely – and sometimes, to abandon them altogether. I learned something unique from each of the four that I will try to heed when this book is long finished. Shanto Iyengar, my advisor, taught me that establishing causality is the most important and most difficult aspect of social science. There is not enough random assignment in this project for Shanto, and I thank him for letting me pursue it nonetheless and for always being available for advice. Paul Sniderman introduced me to the power of embedding experiments in opinion surveys. Working for him, I observed firsthand how to craft a survey and a story. David Brady’s most important contribution to this project is the first wave of the News & Entertainment Project, which I could not have conducted without him. He worked hard to socialize me properly into the American academic system. “This is not Europe; we share here,” was one of his earliest pieces of advice. Humor is impossible to teach, but Mo Fiorina has impressed on me that social science research can be as smart and witty as a good work of fiction.

   In addition to the members of my dissertation committee, others at Stanford provided reactions and advice on various aspects of my projects. For that I would like to thank Don Roberts, the late Steve Chaffee, Christian Sandvig, Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Keith Krehbiel, and Simon Jackman.

   I am grateful to the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton for providing me with a fellowship just as I was finishing my dissertation. The collegial working environment at Princeton gave me a fantastic opportunity to try out new ideas and polish old ones. I could not have wished for smarter, kinder, and more dedicated colleagues than the ones I have at Princeton.

   Doug Arnold, Larry Bartels, Marty Gilens, and Tali Mendelberg read entire versions of this manuscript and were always available for a quick piece of advice or a long conversation. Their comments, questions, and suggestions have improved this book a great deal. Chris Achen, Chuck Cameron, Josh Clinton, Paul DiMaggio, Fred Greenstein, Dave Lewis, Nolan McCarty, Paul Starr, and Keith Whittington also shared their thoughts on this project. And I thank Helene Wood for her assistance.

   I owe a big debt of gratitude to several other people who read the entire manuscript and provided me with many helpful comments and reactions: Jay Hamilton, Sunshine Hillygus, Gabriel Lenz, Skip Lupia, Diana Mutz, and Michael Schudson. Scott Althaus and Matt Baum, who were among the reviewers of my manuscript, deserve special thanks for each of their fifteen pages of single-spaced reactions, suggestions, and constructive criticism. Jim Kuklinski helped throughout the revisions and the editing. I would also like to thank Lew Bateman, Sara Black, Jessica Cepelak, and Ernie Haim at Cambridge University Press for turning a manuscript into a book, and Ben Niles for the cover design.

   Over the years, many other colleagues have offered their comments and suggestions on early conference papers, article drafts, or parts of what I have been calling the “almost final” manuscript for several years now: Steve Ansolabehere, Ted Brader, John Bullock, David Campbell, Dennis Chong, Stefano DellaVigna, Bob Entman, Bob Erikson, John Evans, John Geer, Matt Gentzkow, Vince Hutchings, Gary Jacobson, Elihu Katz, Orit Kedar, Scott Keeter, Don Kinder, Ken Kohlman, Yanna Krupnikov, Russ Neuman, Keiko Ono, Sam Popkin, Vince Price, Bob Putnam, Wendy Rahn, Eric Schickler, Danielle Shani, David Strömberg, Michael Traugott, Yariv Tsfati, Joe Turow, Nick Valentino, Sid Verba, James Webster, Herb Weisberg, Chris Wlezien, and Danna Goldthwaite Young. I am grateful to all of them. A special thank you goes to Michael Delli Carpini who patiently listened to my vague and wooly ideas and encouraged me to pursue this project before it even was a project.

   I benefited from the comments of seminar participants after presenting parts of this project at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Harvard University, the University of Michigan, the Univeristé de Montréal, Princeton University, and Temple University.

   My understanding of news audiences would be much hazier without the input of several people who deal with these audiences daily in their professional lives: Horst Stipp at NBC, Michael Steinberg at the Katz Media Group, Jack Wakshlag at Turner Broadcasting, Ted Kneisler and Rob Schlaepfer at CBS, Evan Thomas at Newsweek, and Jay Mattlin at Mediamark Research. Although they can never share everything they know, I am indebted to them for the time they took from their busy schedules and the patience with which they helped an academic better understand the business of reaching viewers.

   Kathy Dykeman, Danielle Murray, and Chris Pippin at Knowledge Networks provided invaluable work on the implementation of the News & Entertainment Survey. The second wave of that survey owes its existence to the Center of the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University and the generosity of Mike Dennis at Knowledge Networks. Princeton provided me with a well-timed leave of absence to finish this manuscript.

   Over the course of this project, Purcell Carson learned the hard way that an academic’s work is never done. I thank her for her patience with me and for her support of this project. I happily acknowledge her responsibility for any signs of eloquence, the pruning of academic jargon, and the occasional dramatic overstatement. Remaining jargon, clumsy prose, and other shortcomings are in the book despite her and everyone else’s best efforts and cannot be blamed on anyone but me.

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