Political Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 965–987 | Cite as

Seeing Spots: Partisanship, Negativity and the Conditional Receipt of Campaign Advertisements

  • John A. Henderson
  • Alexander G. Theodoridis
Original Paper


Changes in the media landscape increasingly put voters in control of the amount and type of political content they consume. We develop a novel experiment to assess the factors that drive this conditional receipt of information. We focus on how party source and tone interact with partisanship to influence the campaign messages voters seek out or avoid, as discretion over self-exposure varies. We randomly expose subjects to comparable positive or negative television ads aired by Democratic or Republican candidates from the 2012 Presidential election, and measure subjects’ propensities to skip, re-watch and share the spots. Partisans avoid out-party ads, albeit asymmetrically: Republicans are more consistent partisan screeners than Democrats. We find more such selectivity as discretion increases, but little evidence that negativity influences self-exposure. Our findings provide greater insight into the forces behind information selectivity, and have important implications for elections in the post-broadcast era.


Selective exposure Partisanship Information Media Advertising Experiments 



For valuable comments we thank Steve Ansolabehere, Kevin Arceneaux, Kevin Banda, Henry Brady, Paul Freedman, John Geer, Stephen Goggin, David Hopkins, Cindy Kam, Christopher Mann, Kyle Mattes, David Nickerson, Eric Schickler, David Searle, Jasjeet Sekhon, and Rob Van Houweling. This work was funded by generous research support from the University of California, Merced, and supported by the National Science Foundation, Award #1225750. Please send comments to or

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9432_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (697 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 697 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institution for Social and Policy StudiesYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.University of California, MercedMercedUSA

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