Informing the Informed: How Content Preferences Limit the Impact of Voting Aids
42 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2016
Date Written: February 8, 2016
Voters are often uninformed about the political candidates they choose between. Governments, media outlets and civic organizations devote substantial resources to correcting these knowledge deficits by creating tools to provide candidate information to voters. Despite the widespread production of these aids, it remains unclear who they reach. We collect validated measures of online voter guide use for over 40,000 newspaper readers during a state primary election. We show these guides are primarily used by individuals with high levels of political interest and knowledge, a finding in contrast to earlier hypotheses that providing these guides directly to voters online would reduce disparities in use based on political interest. A field experiment promoting voter guides failed to diminish these consumption gaps. These results show that the same content preferences that contribute to an unequal distribution of political knowledge also impede the effectiveness of subsequent efforts to close knowledge gaps.
Keywords: media consumption, field experiments, newspapers, voting aids
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