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Activation, Conversion, or Reinforcement? The Impact of Partisan News Exposure on Vote Choice



This study uses multiwave panel data from the 2008 presidential election to investigate the impact of partisan news exposure on changes in vote preferences over time. Overcoming key limitations of prior research, the analysis distinguishes among the potential effects originally delineated by Lazarsfeld and colleagues (1948): (1) activation—motivating partisans who initially say they are undecided or planning to defect to shift their vote back to their own party's candidate; (2) conversion—motivating partisans to shift their vote to the opposing party's candidate; and (3) reinforcement—strengthening partisans’ preference for their initial vote choice. The results reveal only modest evidence that partisan news reinforces existing vote preferences. Surprisingly, partisan news plays a more robust role motivating changes in vote choice: news slanted toward citizens’ own partisanship increased the odds of activation and decreased the odds of conversion, while news slanted away from citizens’ own partisanship proved a strong counterforce working in the opposite direction.