Did Citizens' Preferences for Online Sources for Campaign Information Impact Learning During the 2008 U.S. General Election?
26 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 4 Jul 2014
Date Written: 2010
Today's changing media landscape calls into question findings about the relationship between news media and political knowledge gathered in an age in which mainstream broadcasts were delivered primarily on three networks, newspaper readership was high and the internet a gleam in the eyes of a handful of defense contractors and scholars. Today, however, the internet allows citizens to customize their news menu from a variety of sources. As a result, a single indicator of overall internet exposure is no longer a valid measure as different media sources online differ in information quality and quantity.
In this study we outline a new method for measuring internet use developed for and employed on the 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey (NAES08). Importantly, respondents were asked not only about the frequency of internet use, but also asked about their primary sources of campaign information within that medium. Respondents cited online sources such asYahoo.com, MSN.com, CNN.com, AOL.com, Drudgereport.com, The New York Times.com with these measures.
First, we look at whether different types of sites are attracting those who are closely following the election and those who are not. We then examine differential learning effects by diverse online sources by specifically looking at the impact of the top cited website on respondents' knowledge of candidate issue stances during the 2008 general election. Our results indicate that certain online sources foster learning while others inhibit it. For example, we found news-assembling homepages such as AOL.com and MSN.com are negatively related to knowledge of the candidate stands; yet dedicated news sites such as The New York Times website (NYTimes.com) and CNN.com produce positive relationships. Additionally, we find positive learning relationships for those who viewed political videos on YouTube. These findings hold in the presence of stringent controls such as education, overall news media use, and interest in the 2008 election. Findings such as these may suggest that incidental exposure to synoptic news shows or news sites online may cause confusion where more detailed content may produce positive effects.
This study is a preliminary attempt to map the effect of the internet's fragmented information environment on the public's knowledge of candidate issue stances during the 2008 general election by assessing the differential impact of a variety of online news sources. Theoretical explications for differential learning across sources are offered as are proposals for future research.
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