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Does Self-Reported News Exposure Measure Political Interest, not Actual Exposure?

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*Part of TESS 2005 Telephone Survey

Download Telephone Survey Data (includes materials for all surveys in module)


Principal Investigator(s):

Markus Prior
Princeton University
Home page:

Sample size: 916
Field period: 10/13/2005 - 2/1/2006



Overreporting of news exposure is a pernicious problem for survey
research. Yet, no systematic analysis of the causes of this overreporting exists, making it impossible to fix the problem. Drawing on a set of experiments embedded in a representative survey of U.S. residents, this study examines why many people overstate their exposure to television news. Results indicate that imperfect recall coupled with the use of flawed inference rules is the primary cause of inflated self-reports. In order to lower reports of news exposure, researchers should help respondents with the estimation. Satisficing and social desirability bias do not explain overreporting of news exposure. Exposure questions that reduce aggregate overreporting show that less educated but politically interested Americans are the primary audience for network news. Network news exposure is less strongly related to current affairs knowledge than traditional exposure questions indicate.


Satisficing hypothesis: lack of effort causes overreporting

Flawed estimation hypothesis: respondents use inappropriate estimation strategies to infer their news exposure based on limited recall of relevant episodes

Social desirability hypothesis: overreporting occurs because a respondent feels that his exposure estimate is embarrassingly low

Experimental Manipulations:

List experiment for news exposure yesterday

Entertainment, sufficiency frames for question on general news exposure

Different anchoring statements for question on network news exposure

Key Dependent Variables:

Self-reported general and network news exposure

Summary of Findings:

See abstract above.


See abstract above.


Prior, Markus. 2009. The Immensely Inflated News Audience: Assessing Bias in Self-Reported News Exposure. Public Opinion Quarterly, 73: 130-143.

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