Revived and Refreshed: Selective Exposure to Blogs and Political Web Sites for Political Information

Revived and Refreshed: Selective Exposure to Blogs and Political Web Sites for Political Information

Thomas J. Johnson (University of Texas at Austin, USA), Shannon L. Bichard (Texas Tech University, USA) and Weiwu Zhang (Texas Tech University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-338-6.ch010
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This study uses an online panel of Internet users to examine the degree to which those who visit U.S. political websites and blogs practice selective exposure as they construct their individual political networks. Specifically, the analysis addresses the extent to which individuals say they visit websites and blogs with which they agree and disagree. The findings indicate strong support for the detection of selective exposure in this context. Reliance on political websites and blogs as well as partisanship emerged as predictors of selective exposure for political information after controlling for demographic and political factors.
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As the number of people who seek out U.S. election news from the four major networks has declined, the number of people seeking more partisan sources such as cable television, political Web sites and blogs has been on the rise (Pew Research, 2008a; 2008b, 2010; Project for Excellence, 2008). Partisans increasingly are seeking out media that support their viewpoints and consequently voters could have received a completely different view of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign depending on which sources they sought out (Project for Excellence, 2008). For instance, the majority of MSNBC viewers were Democrats and the news they saw was more supportive of Barack Obama and more critical of John McCain than the news media generally (Project for Excellence, 2008). MSNBC viewers were also more likely to hear about Sarah Palin’s $150,000 wardrobe spending spree and Colin Powell’s decision to endorse Obama than Fox News viewers, who were more likely than MSNBC viewers to hear about Obama’s connection to the ACORN community organization that was linked to voter fraud (Pew Research, 2008).

Selective exposure to more partisan sources such as political Web sites and blogs is an important topic to explore because of the democratic implications of people only searching out views congenial to their opinions and beliefs. While some researchers suggest that selective exposure may actually motivate people to participate in politics and help them to organize political information meaningfully (Schudson, 1995), others fear selective exposure will contribute to existing problems in democracy. For instance, some researchers claim that engaging in partisan selective exposure will lead people to develop more polarized attitudes and more fragmented political networks (Iyengar & Hahn, 2009; Meffert et al. 2006; Sunstein, 2001; Prior, 2002). Polarized views could lead to a more biased processing of information and to less tolerance of opposing viewpoints (Mutz, 2002). Selective exposure may also produce a less informed electorate as democratic theory suggests that citizens should gather and critically evaluate a range of opinions before reaching decisions (Delli Carpini & Keeter, 1996).

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