Project on Democracy and the Internet

Echo Chambers and Partisan Polarization: Evidence from the 2016 Presidential Campaign

In partnership with
 

Overview

Where do partisans get their election news, and does the availability of partisan sources create the potential for “echo chambers?” To shed light on this question, we track the web browsing behavior of a national sample over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign. We find that exposure to election news has become more polarized, relative to the baseline studies conducted over the past decade. Partisans do gravitate to news sources viewed disproportionately by their co-partisans. Our results indicate modest levels of partisan selective exposure, but two to three times greater than that reported in prior studies. We further show that the partisan divide for election-related news significantly exceeds the divide for non-political news. Importantly, the tendency of partisans to follow like-minded news providers occurs despite only modest differences in the partisan slant of the content offered by the vast majority of news sources visited by our respondents. We provide survey data suggesting that the segregation of the audience is attributable less to the availability of sharply diverging perspectives on the news, but more to the perceptions of partisans—especially Republicans—that most non-partisan news outlets are biased against them.