Exploring the effects of polls on public opinion: How and when media reports of policy preferences can become self-fulfilling prophesies

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Abstract

Recent work has suggested that media reporting about the public’s policy preferences may be self-reinforcing, contributing to greater policy conformity. This article presents additional evidence in support of this theory and adds new detail about the conditionality of these effects. Results from two experiments are described in which respondents are presented with excerpted news stories containing varying polling information about six separate issues. Findings indicate that (a) exposure to such poll results can elicit differences in support for the issue by as much as 10–15 percentage points; (b) the magnitude of these effects varies systematically and inversely in relation to overall attitudinal intensity levels for each issue; and (c) the opinions of specific subgroups referenced in polls matter, producing larger or smaller effects depending on how salient the group is to receivers of the information. Taken together, these results underscore why news reporting about public attitudes deserves greater attention as an important factor in the policy process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalResearch and Politics
Volume5
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018

Keywords

  • Political attitudes
  • bandwagon effects
  • conformity
  • polling
  • public opinion

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