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Collision with Collusion: Partisan Reaction to the Trump-Russia Scandal

  • Joshua P. Darr, Nathan P. Kalmoe, Kathleen Searles, Mingxiao Sui, Raymond J. Pingree, Brian K. Watson, Kirill Bryanov and Martina Santia...


President Donald Trump faced substantial scandal coverage early in his presidency. Can these stories about presidential controversies change the opinions of Trump’s fellow Republicans, or are the efforts of the news media to inform partisans about prominent issues futile? Past research on partisan reactions to major political scandals were confounded by problems with self-reported media use and single-shot experimental treatments. We address these concerns using a unique, repeated-exposure experimental design that either randomly supplied participants with news about the Trump-Russia scandal, or removed most of those stories from view, over the course of one week in June 2017. This design mimics sustained media attention to a political scandal and disentangles the effects of media coverage from selection in the context of a high-choice media environment. We find that Republicans randomly assigned to see more Trump-Russia headlines reacted more negatively than Democrats or Independents, rating Trump’s performance lower and expressing more negative emotions about him. Republicans’ perceptions of media bias were not affected by Trump-Russia stories, and effects were not contingent upon clicking the articles. Intense media focus on a story can alter partisans’ evaluations of politicians by shifting the balance of headlines.

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A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.


Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at

The authors would like to thank the editors and anonymous reviewers of Perspectives on Politics, Martin Johnson, and audiences at SPSA 2018 and LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication for their thoughtful comments. Funding was provided by the George D. Nelson Professorship, an internal research fund of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Any remaining errors are our own.



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