Stability and Development of Political Interest
Some people are more interested in politics than others. Yet why this is so remains largely unclear, because political scientists have devoted little attention to studying political interest as a dependent variable. Where political interest comes from and how it changes is significant because interest has strong effects on many other political cognitions and behaviors, and because, as Post-Broadcast Democracy demonstrated, these effects appear to be growing. As political interest is very stable over the life cycle (JOP 2010) , understanding the origins of political interest in childhood and adolescence becomes important. It is the subject of my current book project.
The Effect of Cable and Internet on American Politics
Post-Broadcast Democracy examines systematically how changes in the media environment 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. 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 `80s, more people watched television news than at any other time, but only because they had little choice. Many of them were not very interested in politics and not very partisan. Today, cable television and the Internet offer people a lot more choice, so those with little interest now watch entertainment instead of news. News junkies, on the other hand, can follow politics around the clock. Because news exposure motivates political participation, entertainment fans participate less, news junkies more. As a result, political involvement becomes more unequal and elections more polarized. Prior (ARPS 2013) provides an updated account of the link between partisan media and political polarization. Prior (in Kenski & Jamieson) offers an extended discussion of the current media environment and political accountability.
Partisanship, Partisan Media and Partisan Bias
Partisanship is fundamental factor in American politics, media, and voter psychology. Post-Broadcast Democracy demonstrated that greater media choice made elections more partisan in the last quarter of the 20th century. But we see the compositional effects of cable years before partisan news outlets emerged. After reviewing existing research, Prior (ARPS 2013) finds no compelling evidence that partisan media have made Americans more partisan. Most voters avoid partisan media altogether or watch both sides. Those who follow partisan media closely and select mostly one side are already partisan. Evidence that the power of partisanship is sometimes exaggerated also comes from an experiment that varies respondents' accuracy motivation. In response to factual questions about economic conditions, Republicans and Democrats differ significantly less when they are paid for correct answers. We conclude that in surveys without incentives, partisans sometimes give partisan-congenial answers they know to be incorrect (QJPS forthcoming, with Sood and Khanna).
Origins and Measurement of Political Knowledge
Learning from exposure to news and politics is important for democratic citizenship and a key outcome in examined in Post-Broadcast Democracy. In several other projects, I examined how to best measure political knowledge and why measurement matters. An experiment that pays some survey respondents for correct answers to factual questions demonstrates that some people fail to answer correctly even though they know the answer-they are just not sufficiently motivated to search their memories (AJPS 2008, with Lupia). Another study develops and implements a way to measure visual political knowledge. Experiments show that some people, including women and the less educated, store political information visually. Exclusively verbal knowledge measures thus disadvantage them (JOP 2014). Prior (PC 2003) compares knowledge of soft news and hard news. An ongoing project aims to explain why Republicans and Democrats give different answers to factual questions about economic conditions (QJPS forthcoming, with Sood and Khanna).
News Audiences and Audience Measurement
Without knowing how much and what kind of media content people watch, read, and hear, it is very difficult to examine the political effects of media exposure. Unfortunately, survey-based measures of media exposure that rely on respondents' self-reports are seriously flawed. In a series of studies, I have demonstrated significant misreporting in exposure to network news (POQ 2008), cable news (ARPS 2013), and presidential debates (POQ 2012). Survey respondents appear to give incorrect answers not because they want to look good, but because the task of recalling and estimating their exposure is too difficult (JOP 2009). Modified self-report questions can vary demands on respondents, but the fundamental flaw of low validity persists (PC 2013). We must find ways to measure exposure without relying on respondents' own reports.
Prior, Markus, Gaurav Sood, and Kabir Khanna (forthcoming). You Cannot be Serious: The Impact of Accuracy Incentives on Partisan Bias in Reports of Economic Perceptions. Quarterly Journal of Political Science.
Prior, Markus (2014). Visual Political Knowledge: A Different Road to Competence? Journal of Politics.
Prior, Markus (2014). Conditions for Political Accountability in a High-Choice Media Environment. In: Kate Kenski and Kathleen Hall Jamieson (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Political Communication, Oxford University Press.
Prior, Markus (2013). The Challenge of Measuring Media Exposure: Reply to Dilliplane, Goldman, and Mutz. Political Communication, 30(4): 620-634.
Prior, Markus (2013). Media and Political Polarization. Annual Review of Political Science, 16: 101-27.
Prior, Markus (2012). Who Watches Presidential Debates? Measurement Problems in Campaign Effects Research. Public Opinion Quarterly, 76 (2): 350-363.
Prior, Markus (2010). You've Either Got It or You Don’t? The Stability of Political Interest over the Life Cycle. Journal of Politics, 72 (3): 747-766.
Prior, Markus (2009). Improving Media Effects Research through Better Measurement of News Exposure. Journal of Politics, 71 (3): 893-908.
Prior, Markus (2009). The Immensely Inflated News Audience: Assessing Bias in Self-Reported News Exposure. Public Opinion Quarterly, 73 (1): 130-143.
Prior, Markus and Arthur Lupia (2008). Money, Time, and Political Knowledge: Distinguishing Quick Recall and Political Learning Skills. American Journal of Political Science, 52 (1): 168-182. pdf
Prior, Markus (2006). The Incumbent in the Living Room: The Rise of Television and the Incumbency Advantage in U.S. House Elections. Journal of Politics, 68 (3): 657-673. pdf
Prior, Markus (2005). News v. Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge and Turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 49 (3): 594-609. pdf
Prior, Markus (2003). Any Good News in Soft News? The Impact of Soft News Preference on Political Knowledge. Political Communication, 20 (2): 149-171.