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Persuading the Enemy: Estimating the Persuasive Effects of Partisan Media with the Preference-Incorporating Choice and Assignment Design



Does media choice cause polarization, or merely reflect it? We investigate a critical aspect of this puzzle: How partisan media contribute to attitude polarization among different groups of media consumers. We implement a new experimental design, called the Preference-Incorporating Choice and Assignment (PICA) design, that incorporates both free choice and forced exposure. We estimate jointly the degree of polarization caused by selective exposure and the persuasive effect of partisan media. Our design also enables us to conduct sensitivity analyses accounting for discrepancies between stated preferences and actual choice, a potential source of bias ignored in previous studies using similar designs. We find that partisan media can polarize both its regular consumers and inadvertent audiences who would otherwise not consume it, but ideologically opposing media potentially also can ameliorate the existing polarization between consumers. Taken together, these results deepen our understanding of when and how media polarize individuals.


Corresponding author

*Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Boston University,
Matthew A. Baum, Kalb Professor, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government,
Adam J. Berinsky, Mitsui Professor, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
**Teppei Yamamoto, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,


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For comments, suggestions, and advice, we thank Kevin Arceneaux, David Broockman, Andres Cambronero, Matthew Gentzkow, Dan Hopkins, Dean Knox, Matthew Levendusky, Robert Pressel, Markus Prior, Jesse Shapiro, and Natalie Stroud. For excellent research assistance, we thank Grace Chao and Henry Feinstein. Financial support was provided by the National Science Foundation (SES-1528487) and the Political Experiments Research Lab (PERL) at MIT. Berinsky’s contribution was supported in part by a Joan Shorenstein Fellowship. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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Supplementary materials

de Benedictis-Kessner et al. Dataset

Supplementary materials

de Benedictis-Kessner et al. supplementary material
Online Appendices A-E

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