transfer 26(2) » Rezeptions- und Wirkungsforschung

Partisan News Consumption in the US

Asymmetrical Patterns of Selective Exposure Along Party Lines

The 2020 US presidential election threw a spotlight on the dynamics of partisan selective exposure (PSE) at play among Democrats and Republicans in their consumption of news. Some US-focused studies of partisan news consumption in past years have indicated that Republicans possess a greater proclivity toward PSE to news than Democrats, suggesting that there exists an asymmetry in the patterns of PSE along party lines (Bakshy et al., 2015; Barberá et al., 2015; Vraga, 2014). Other studies dispute this finding, and, overall, academic literature provides mixed results. Therefore, it is empirically valuable to assess the differences and similarities of partisans’ selective exposure to news in the US in the most recent presidential elections.

This paper answers the following research question: What differences and similarities did Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning partisans exhibit in regard to selective exposure in the 2020 Presidential Election? I turn to existing studies about the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections to answer this question, and thereby contribute to the ongoing academic discussion about selective exposure during presidential elections. All in all, this paper uncovers fundamental asymmetries across party lines in 2016 and 2020. This conclusion is drawn on the basis of analyzing micro-level characteristics of ideological extremity and (dis)trust of media as well as the meso-level characteristics of the media environment in the US during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Based on my analysis of already existing literature, I uncover that the levels of PSE are disproportionately high amongst Republicans in comparison to the PSE of Democrats. Should this asymmetrical polarization persist, there may be considerable consequences for society: democratic deliberation and consensus-building will become increasingly difficult.