Skip to main content Accessibility help

Partisan selective exposure in online news consumption: evidence from the 2016 presidential campaign

  • Erik Peterson (a1), Sharad Goel (a2) and Shanto Iyengar (a3)


Where do partisans get their election news in the contemporary media environment? We track the online news consumption of a national sample during the 2016 presidential campaign. We find levels of partisan isolation in news exposure are two to three times greater than in prior studies, although the absolute level of isolation remains modest. The partisan divide for election-related news exceeds the divide for non-political news. This tendency of partisans to follow like-minded news providers occurs despite the relatively small differences in the partisan slant of the content offered by the majority of sources they visited. Finally, we find that partisans who gravitated to congenial news providers did not shift their evaluations of the presidential candidates during the campaign.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Hide All
Abelson, RP, McGuire, WJ, Newcomb, TM, Rosenberg, M and Tannenbaum, PH (1967) Theories of Cognitive Consistency. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Adamic, LA and Glance, N (2005) The political blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. election. Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Link Discovery. Available at
Bakshy, E, Messing, S and Adamic, L (2015) Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook. Science (New York, N.Y.) 348, 11301132.
Bourhis, RY, Giles, H, Leyens, JP and Tajfel, H (1979) Psycholinguistic distinctiveness: language divergence in Belgium. Language and Social Psychology 1, 158185.
Branscome, NR, Schmitt, MT and Harvey, RD (1999) Perceiving pervasive discrimination among African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77, 135149.
Branscome, NR and Wann, DL (1994) Collective self-esteem consequences of outgroup derogation when a valued social identity is on trial. European Journal of Social Psychology 24, 641657.
Budak, C, Goel, S and Rao, JM (2016) Fair and balanced? Quantifying media bias through crowdsourced content analysis. Public Opinion Quarterly 80, 250271.
Crocker, J, Voelkl, K, Test, M and Major, B (1991) Social stigma: the affective consequences of attributional ambiguity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 60, 218228.
Festinger, L (1957) A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row & Peterson.
Flaxman, S, Goel, S and Rao, JM (2016) Filter bubbles, echo chambers and online news consumption. Public Opinion Quarterly 80, 298320.
Garrett, RK, Gvirsman, SD, Johnston, BK, Tsfati, Y, Neo, R and Dal, A (2014) Implications of pro and counterattitudinal information exposure for affective polarization. Human Communication Research 40, 309332.
Gelman, An and King, G (1993) Why are American presidential campaign polls so variable when votes are so predictable? British Journal of Political Science 23, 409451.
Gentzkow, M and Shapiro, JM (2011) Ideological segregation online and offline. Quarterly Journal of Economics 126, 17991839.
Guess, AM (2015) Measure for measure: an experimental test of online political media exposure. Political Analysis 23, 5975.
Guess, AM (2018) (Almost) everything in moderation: new evidence on Americans' online media diets. Working Paper. Available at
Heider, F (1958) The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.
Hindman, M (2008) The Myth of Digital Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Iyengar, S (2018) Media Politics: A Citizen's Guide. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Iyengar, S and Hahn, KS (2009) Red media, blue media: evidence of ideological selectivity in media use. Journal of Communication 59, 1939.
Iyengar, S, Lelkes, Y, Levendusky, M, Malhotra, N and Westwood, SJ (2019) The origins and consequences of affective polarization in the United States. Annual Review of Political Science 22, 129146.
Jost, JT, Glaser, J, Kruglanski, AW and Sulloway, FJ (2003) Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin 129, 339375.
Kalla, J and Broockman, D (2018) The minimal persuasive effects of campaign contact in general elections. American Political Science Review 112, 148166.
Klar, S, Krupnikov, Y and Ryan, J (2018) Affective polarization or partisan disdain? untangling a dislike for the opposing party from a dislike of partisanship. Public Opinion Quarterly 82, 379390.
Lawrence, E, Sides, J and Farrell, H (2010) Self-segregation or deliberation? Blog readership, participation and polarization in American politics. Perspectives on Politics 8, 141157.
Lazarsfeld, P, Berelson, B and Gaudet, H (1948) The People's Choice: How the Voter Makes Up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign. New York: Columbia University Press.
Levendusky, M (2013) How Partisan Media Polarize America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mason, L (2018) Uncivil Agreement: How Political Became Our Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mummolo, J (2016) News from the other side: how topic relevance limits the prevalence of partisan selective exposure. Journal of Politics 78, 763773.
Peterson, E and Kagalwala, A (2019) When unfamiliarity breeds contempt: how partisan selective exposure sustains oppositional media hostility. Working Paper. Available at
Pew Research Center (2012) Cable Leads the Pack as Campaign News Source (Pew Research Center Report). February 7, 2012. Available at
Prior, M (2007) Post-Broadcast Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Prior, M (2009) Improving media effects research through better measurement of news exposure. Journal of Politics 71, 893908.
Sears, DO and Freedman, JL (1967) Selective exposure to information. Public Opinion Quarterly 31, 194213.
Stroud, N (2010) Polarization and partisan selective exposure. Journal of Communication 60, 556576.
Stroud, NJ, Muddiman, A and Lee, JK (2014) Seeing media as group members: an evaluation of partisan bias perceptions. Journal of Communication 64, 874894.
Vavreck, L and Iyengar, S (2011) The future of political communication research. In Edwards, GC III, Shapiro, R and Jacobs, L (eds), Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and Media.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Peterson et al. Dataset

Supplementary materials

Peterson et al. supplementary material
Peterson et al. supplementary material

 PDF (606 KB)
606 KB

Partisan selective exposure in online news consumption: evidence from the 2016 presidential campaign

  • Erik Peterson (a1), Sharad Goel (a2) and Shanto Iyengar (a3)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed