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Identifying and Correcting Substantive Policy Misperceptions

    This paper identifies, measures, and attempts to correct misperceptions around public policy. In Study 1, forty interviews with American citizens from across the political spectrum elicit the factual bases of their political opinions. This open-ended approach makes it possible to uncover the factual assertions that citizens spontaneously invoke in support of their policy preferences. In Study 2, a representative survey assesses the breadth of twelve of these misperceptions, as well as the extent to which they can be minimized through corrections. Results suggest that a single correction can substantially reduce policy misperceptions, even among partisans and those who are confident in their false beliefs.

Income Misperceptions and Policy Attitudes
    While many Americans express concern over rising economic inequality, fewer support redistributive policies designed to reduce it. This paper suggests that gap occurs partly because Americans do not realize just how little many common jobs pay. Drawing on surveys and an experiment, I present evidence not only that Americans systematically overestimate the earnings of people in low-wage jobs, but also that exposure to accurate information increases support for redistributive policies. The effect is strongest for those who personally know people in low-wage jobs. These findings suggest that both media coverage of low-wage workers and interpersonal conversations about money may shape support of policies like welfare and food stamps.

Sponsorship-Induced Bias in Web Survey Data (with Thomas Leeper, Aarhus University)

    We measure the extent to which sponsorship (by a university or marketing firm) affects data quality, including in satisficing behavior, demand characteristics, and socially desirable responding. We employ a unique online survey that manipulates sponsorship after participants have opted in to participation, thus eliminating selection biases that would plague between-survey comparisons of data quality. In addition, we examine whether sponsor effects vary depending on the participant's experience with online surveys. Overall, we find no evidence that response quality is affected by survey sponsor or by past survey experience.

Video or Text? Stability and Change in News Format Preference (with Lee Shaker, Portland State University)
    News outlets are investing substantial time and money to bolster digital video production under the assumption that video news will become an increasingly important part of online news consumption. However, we still know little about when and why people opt to consume news in video versus text format. This study is one of the first to examine (1) the demographic and psychological predictors of news format preference, and (2) how news content shapes format preferences. The results from two studies that systematically manipulate the format (text or video) of news stories while holding all else constant show that education and reading efficacy are the strongest predictors of text preference. In addition, content preference appears remarkably stable across different types of content. 


Thorson, Emily. “Belief Echoes: The Persistent Effects of Corrected Misinformation” Political Communication. November, 2015.

Beyond Opinion Leaders: How Attempts to Persuade Foster Political Awareness and Campaign Learning. Forthcoming, Communication Research. 

The Economy and the Dynamics of the 2008 Presidential Campaign: Evidence from the National Annenberg Election Study.” March 2010. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties, 20:2 271-289. (with Richard Johnston and Andrew Gooch)

Changing Patterns of News Consumption and Participation.” June 2008. Information, Communication, and Society, 11 (4): 473-489