Clicking to Learn During the 2008 Presidential Election: Why Capturing Channel Switching Matters

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Abstract:

This article examines the effect that channel switching among news programs has on knowledge of the issue stands of the 2008 presidential candidates. Past studies focused on news-to-non-news-switching found news grazing to be negatively related to levels of political knowledge. Drawing on data from the 2008 National Annenberg Election Study (NAES) the study concludes that: 1) during the 2008 general election many viewers switched from one news program to another; 2) switchers were disproportionately those who reported closely following the election; 3) the level of channel switching was dynamic during the 2008 campaign and peaked during the parties’ convention; 4) switching from one news program to another was positively related to knowledge of the candidates’ issue stances, in the presence of controls, and 5) the impact of channel switching on knowledge is moderated by how closely one follows the election. The implication of the results and possible directions for future research are discussed.

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