News vs. Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge and Turnout


  • I am grateful to David Brady, the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton, and Knowledge Networks for providing support for this project. Larry Bartels, Matt Baum, Michael Delli-Carpini, John Geer, Marty Gilens, Jay Hamilton, Shanto Iyengar, Skip Lupia, Tali Mendelberg, Diana Mutz, Sam Popkin, Wendy Rahn, and the anonymous referees deserve thanks for many helpful comments on previous versions of this article.

Markus Prior is assistant professor of politics and public affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, 313 Robertson Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544-1013 (


Despite dramatic increases in available political information through cable television and the Internet, political knowledge and turnout have not changed noticeably. To explain this seeming paradox, I argue that greater media choice makes it easier for people to find their preferred content. People who like news take advantage of abundant political information to become more knowledgeable and more likely to turn out. In contrast, people who prefer entertainment abandon the news and become less likely to learn about politics and go to the polls. To test this proposition, I develop a measure of people's media content preference and include it in a representative opinion survey of 2,358 U.S. residents. Results show that content preference indeed becomes a better predictor of political knowledge and turnout as media choice increases. Cable TV and the Internet increase gaps in knowledge and turnout between people who prefer news and people who prefer entertainment.