Online Incidental Exposure to News Can Minimize Interest-Based Political Knowledge Gaps: Evidence from Two U.S. Elections

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Abstract

Concerns persist over the potential for the fragmented media environment to promote motivation-based political knowledge gaps between those who are interested in politics and those who are not. Yet, there is also evidence that the Internet can provide opportunities for individuals to incidentally encounter and learn from news, which may decrease these knowledge gaps. The current study tests this possibility using two, two-wave panel surveys of adults in the United States conducted during the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. Across two distinct electoral contexts, we find evidence that incidental exposure to online news and political information promotes learning about presidential candidates’ policy positions over the course of the campaign. In addition, the data suggest the least politically interested benefit the most from this incidental exposure, as they see the largest gains in political knowledge. These findings indicate that opportunities to learn via incidental exposure have the potential to reduce motivation-based knowledge gaps.

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Weeks, B. E., Lane, D. S., & Hahn, L. B. (2022). Online Incidental Exposure to News Can Minimize Interest-Based Political Knowledge Gaps: Evidence from Two U.S. Elections. International Journal of Press/Politics, 27(1), 243–262. https://doi.org/10.1177/1940161221991550

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