The myth of partisan selective exposure: A portrait of the online political news audience

Jacob L. Nelson, James G. Webster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Many assume that in a digital environment with a wide range of ideologically tinged news outlets, partisan selective exposure to like-minded speech is pervasive and a primary cause of political polarization. Yet, partisan selective exposure research tends to stem from experimental or self-reported data, which limits the applicability of their findings in a high-choice media environment. We explore observed online audience behavior data to present a portrait of the actual online political news audience. We find that this audience frequently navigates to news sites from Facebook, and that it congregates among a few popular, well-known political news sites. We also find that political news sites comprise ideologically diverse audiences, and that they share audiences with nearly all smaller, more ideologically extreme outlets. Our results call into question the strength of the so-called red/blue divide in actual web use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSocial Media and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Audience behavior
  • Media choice
  • Network analysis
  • Partisan selective exposure
  • Social network sites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications


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