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

Download data and study materials from OSF

This experiment was fielded as part of a TESS telephone survey. Data and materials for all the studies included on this survey is available here.

Principal investigator:

Markus Prior

Princeton University



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


Self-reported general and network news exposure

Summary of Results

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.