Implications of online incidental and selective exposure for political emotions: Affective polarization during elections

Qinfeng Zhu, Brian Weeks, Nojin Kwak

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    The Internet and social media create an environment in which individuals can selectively approach information supporting their political worldviews while also being incidentally exposed to socially shared information that challenges their beliefs. These competing information consumption patterns may help explain whether and how digital media contribute to affective polarization (i.e. affect-based division between political groups). This study examines how pro-attitudinal selective exposure and counter-attitudinal incidental exposure in tandem influence political emotions. Using data from 2, two-wave panel surveys conducted during the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections, our findings demonstrate that seeking consonant political information is consistently associated with anger toward political opponents and enthusiasm toward like-minded partisans. In contrast, despite the purported democratic benefits endowed on political disagreement, cross-cutting incidental exposure does not temper political emotional responses associated with pro-attitudinal selective exposure. However, we find little evidence that unexpected exposure to disagreeable information backfires either.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalNew Media and Society
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7-Dec-2021

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