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Through the Grapevine: Informational Consequences of Interpersonal Political Communication



Much of the US public acquires political information socially. However, the consequences of acquiring information from others instead of the media are under-explored. I conduct a “telephone-game” experiment to examine how information changes as it flows from official reports to news outlets to other people, finding that social information is empirically different from news articles. In a second experiment on a nationally representative sample, I randomly assign participants to read a news article or a social message about that article generated in Study 1. Participants exposed to social information learned significantly less than participants who were exposed to the news article. However, individuals exposed to information from someone who is like-minded and knowledgeable learned the same objective facts as those who received information from the media. Although participants learned the same factual information from these ideal informants as they did from the media, they had different subjective evaluations.


Corresponding author

*Taylor N. Carlson, PhD Candidate, University of California, San Diego,


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I thank James Fowler, Seth Hill, Marisa Abrajano, Margaret Roberts, Charles McClean, Andrew Engelhardt, Matthew Pietryka, and Nazita Lajevardi for invaluable feedback on earlier drafts of this paper and the research design. I am grateful to Jaime Settle for endless support and encouragement. I thank participants at UCSD’s integrated and American Politics workshops, and Human Nature Group. I am also grateful for feedback from MPSA 2018, New Faces in Political Methodology X, Yale’s CSAP conference, the 2018 Political Networks Conference, the College of William and Mary Government Department, and the 2018 Political Communication APSA Pre-Conference. This research was generously supported by the National Science Foundation (SES 1423788). Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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Carlson Dataset

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Carlson supplementary material 1

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