Hostname: page-component-8448b6f56d-wq2xx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-17T20:03:27.539Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

How Does Treatment Self-Selection Affect Inferences About Political Communication?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 September 2017

Thomas J. Leeper*
Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom, e-mail:


Ecological validity is vital to experimental research because designs that are too artificial may not speak to any real-world political phenomenon. One such concern is treatment of self-selection: if individuals in the real-world self-select treatments, such as political communications, how well does the sample average treatment effect estimate the effects of message exposure for those individuals who would—if given the choice—opt-in to and out of receiving treatment? This study shows that randomization masks effect heterogeneity between individuals who would select different messages if given the choice. Yet, such selections are themselves complex, revealing additional challenges for realistically studying treatments prone to self-selection. The evidence of effect heterogeneity raises questions about the appropriateness of random assignment experiments for studying political communication and the results more broadly advance our understanding of citizens’ selection into and responses to communications when, as they often do, have choice over what messages to receive.

Research Article
Copyright © The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2017 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Ansolabehere, Stephen, Iyengar, Shanto, Simon, Adam F., and Valentino, Nicholas A.. 1994. “Does Attack Advertising Demobilize the Electorate?American Political Science Review 88 (4): 829–38.Google Scholar
Arceneaux, Kevin and Johnson, Martin. 2012. Changing Minds or Changing Channels? Media Effects in the Era of Viewer Choice. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
Baum, Matthew A. 2002. “Sex, Lies, and War: How Soft News Brings Foreign Policy to the Inattentive Public.” American Political Science Review 96 (1): 91109.Google Scholar
Bennett, W. Lance and Iyengar, Shanto. 2008. “A New Era of Minimal Effects? The Changing Foundations of Political Communication.” Journal of Communication 58 (4): 707–31.Google Scholar
Berinsky, Adam J. and Kinder, Donald R.. 2006. “Making Sense of Issues Through Media Frames: Understanding the Kosovo Crisis.” The Journal of Politics 68 (3): 640–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bolsen, Toby and Leeper, Thomas J.. 2013. “Self-Interest and Attention to News among Issue Publics.” Political Communication 30 (3): 329–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brewer, Paul R. and Gross, Kimberly. 2005. “Values, Framing, and Citizens’ Thoughts about Policy Issues: Effects on Content and Quantity.” Political Psychology 26 (6): 929–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chong, Dennis and Druckman, James N.. 2007. “Framing Public Opinion in Competitive Democracies.” American Political Science Review 101 (4): 637–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Disch, Lisa. 2011. “Toward a Mobilization Conception of Democratic Representation.” American Political Science Review 105 (01): 100–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ditto, Peter H., Scepansky, James A., Munro, Geoffrey D., Apanovitch, Anne Marie, and Lockhart, Lisa K.. 1998. “Motivated Sensitivity to Preference Inconsistent Information.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75 (1): 5369.Google Scholar
Druckman, James N., Fein, Jordan, and Leeper, Thomas J.. 2012. “A Source of Bias in Public Opinion Stability.” American Political Science Review 106 (2): 430–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Feldman, Lauren, Maibach, Edward W., Roser-Renouf, Connie, and Leiserowitz, Anthony A.. 2011. “Climate on Cable: The Nature and Impact of Global Warming Coverage on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.” The International Journal of Press/Politics 17 (1): 331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gaines, Brian J. and Kuklinski, James H.. 2011a. “Experimental Estimation of Heterogeneous Treatment Effects Related to Self-Selection.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (3): 724–36.Google Scholar
Gaines, Brian J. and Kuklinski, James H.. 2011b. “Treatment Effects.” In Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science, eds. Druckman, James N., Green, Donald P., Kuklinski, James H., and Lupia, Arthur. New York: Cambridge University Press, 445–58.Google Scholar
Garrett, R. Kelly. 2009a. “Echo Chambers Online? Politically Motivated Selective Exposure Among Internet News Users.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14 (2): 265–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Garrett, R. Kelly. 2009b. “Politically Motivated Reinforcement Seeking: Reframing the Selective Exposure Debate.” Journal of Communication 59 (4): 676–99.Google Scholar
Garrett, R. Kelly, Carnahan, Dustin, and Lynch, Emily K.. 2013. “A Turn Toward Avoidance? Selective Exposure to Online Political Information, 2004–2008.” Political Behavior 35 (1): 113–34.Google Scholar
Hart, William, Albarracín, Dolores, Eagly, Alice H., Brechan, Inge, Lindberg, Matthew J., and Merrill, Lisa. 2009. “Feeling Validated Versus Being Correct: A Meta-Analysis of Selective Exposure to Information.” Psychological Bulletin 135 (4): 555–88.Google Scholar
Holbrook, Allyson L., Berent, Matthew K., Krosnick, Jon A., Visser, Penny S., and Boninger, David S.. 2005. “Attitude Importance and the Accumulation of Attitude-Relevant Knowledge in Memory.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88 (5): 749–69.Google Scholar
Hovland, Carl I. 1959. “Reconciling Conflicting Results Derived from Experimental and Survey Studies of Attitude Change.” American Psychologist 14 (1): 817.Google Scholar
Iyengar, Shanto, and Kinder, Donald R.. 1987. News That Matters: Television and American Opinion. Chicago, IL: The University Of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Iyengar, Shanto and Hahn, Kyu S.. 2009. “Red Media, Blue Media: Evidence of Ideological Selectivity in Media Use.” Journal of Communication 59 (1): 1939.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Iyengar, Shanto, Hahn, Kyu S., Krosnick, Jon A., and Walker, John. 2008. “Selective Exposure to Campaign Communication: The Role of Anticipated Agreement and Issue Public Membership.” The Journal of Politics 70 (01): 186200.Google Scholar
Kim, Young Mie. 2007. “How Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations Interact in Selectivity: Investigating the Moderating Effects of Situational Information Processing Goals in Issue Publics’ Web Behavior.” Communication Research 34 (2): 185211.Google Scholar
Kunda, Ziva. 1990. “The Case for Motivated Reasoning.” Psychological Bulletin 108 (3): 480–98.Google Scholar
Lau, Richard R. and Redlawsk, David P.. 2006. How Voters Decide: Information Processing in Election Campaigns. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Leeper, Thomas J. 2014. “The Informational Basis for Mass Polarization.” Public Opinion Quarterly 78 (1): 2746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miller, Joanne M. and Krosnick, Jon A.. 2000. “News Media Impact on the Ingredients of Presidential Evaluations: Politically Knowledgeable Citizens are Guided by a Trusted Source.” American Journal of Political Science 44 (2): 301–15.Google Scholar
Nelson, Thomas E., Clawson, Rosalee A., and Oxley, Zoe M.. 1997. “Media Framing of a Civil Liberties Conflict and Its Effect on Tolerance.” American Political Science Review 91 (3): 567–83.Google Scholar
Petty, Richard E. and Cacioppo, John T.. 1986. “The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 19: 123205.Google Scholar
Prior, Markus. 2007. Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Smith, Steven M., Fabrigar, Leandre R., and Norris, Meghan E.. 2008. “Reflecting on Six Decades of Selective Exposure Research: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities.” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2 (1): 464493.Google Scholar
Stroud, Natalie Jomini. 2011. Niche News: The Politics of News Choice. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taber, Charles S., and Lodge, Milton. 2006. “Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs.” American Journal of Political Science 50 (3): 755–69.Google Scholar
Visser, Penny S., Holbrook, Allyson L., and Krosnick, Jon A.. 2007. “Knowledge and Attitudes.” In The SAGE Handbook of Public Opinion Research, eds. Donsbach, Wolfgang and Traugott, Michael W.. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 123–40.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Leeper supplementary material

Appendices A and B

Download Leeper supplementary material(PDF)
PDF 349.1 KB