The Implications of Cable and Internet Access for Political Knowledge

The Implications of Cable and Internet Access for Political Knowledge

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Efficient Choice, Inefficient Democracy? The Implications of Cable and Internet Access for Political Knowledge and Voter Turnout Markus Prior Ph.D. Candidate Department of Communication Stanford University McClatchy Hall, Bldg. 120 Stanford, CA 94305-2050 mprior@stanford.edu Paper prepared for presentation at the 29 th Research Conference on Information, Communication, and Internet Policy in Alexandria, Virginia, October 27-29, 2001.
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2 Efficient Choice, Inefficient Democracy? The Implications of Cable and Internet Access for Political Knowledge and Voter Turnout Abstract This paper explains why, despite a marked increase in available political information on cable television and the Internet, citizens’ levels of political knowledge have, at best, remained increased too, the effect of new media on knowledge and vote likelihood should be determined by people’s relative preferences for entertainment and information. Access to new media should increase knowledge and vote likelihood among people who prefer news. At the same time, it is hypothesized to have a negative effect on knowledge and turnout for people who prefer entertainment content. Hypotheses are tested by building a measure of Relative Entertainment Preference (REP) from existing NES and Pew survey data. Results support the predicted interaction effect of media environment (cable and/or Internet access) and motivation (REP) on political knowledge and turnout. In particular, people who prefer entertainment to news and have access to cable television and the Internet are less knowledgeable and less likely to vote than any other group of people.
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3 Efficient Choice, Inefficient Democracy? The Implications of Cable and Internet Access for Political Knowledge and Voter Turnout People face dramatically different media choices today than two or three decades ago. Television used to be broadcast only on three to five channels. Today, cable provides easily ten times as many channels and offers around-the-clock news coverage on several of them. The Internet further offers an unquantifiable amount of additional media options, including numerous newspapers, magazines, TV programs, and other political information. Few doubt that more information is available as a result of recent changes in the media environment. Does that imply that people are better informed? The present study attempts to answer this question by comparing people who have access to cable television and the Internet to those with access to only one of these new media and those who do not have access to either. Results suggest that some people with new media access may indeed be better informed than those with limited or no access. But other new media users actually know less about the political process than otherwise similar users
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The Implications of Cable and Internet Access for Political Knowledge

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