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Waving the Red Cloth: Mere Exposure to Media Coverage of a Contentious Issue Triggers Polarization

Sun, May 28, 8:00 to 9:15, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 2, Indigo 206


We extend the boundary conditions of the work on media effects on polarization by (1) examining whether mere exposure to news coverage about a contentious political issue polarizes attitudes, especially among the already polarized citizens, (2) analyzing issue-attitudes as multi-dimensional, and assessing media effects on each attitude dimension, and (3) offering causal and generalizable evidence in the non-US context. We match individual-level data from a representative 4-wave panel survey with content data on the amount of coverage about the EU in numerous news outlets. We show that strongly opinionated citizens exposed to news about the EU polarize following mere exposure, and that the affective and identity-related dimensions of EU attitudes polarize more than the more specific dimensions. Moreover, polarization emerges among strong EU supporters and opponents alike. These results extend the polarization literature to naturalistic settings and suggest that polarizing effects of the media may be greater than previously acknowledged.