Measure for Measure: An Experimental Test of Online Political Media Exposure


Self-reported measures of media exposure are plagued with error and questions about validity. Since they are essential to studying media effects, a substantial literature has explored the shortcomings of these measures, tested proxies, and proposed refinements. But lacking an objective baseline, such investigations can only make relative comparisons. By focusing specifically on recent Internet activity stored by Web browsers, this article’s methodology captures individuals’ actual consumption of political media. Using experiments embedded within an online survey, I test three different measures of media exposure and compare them to the actual exposure. I find that open-ended survey prompts reduce overreporting and generate an accurate picture of the overall audience for online news. I also show that they predict news recall at least as well as general knowledge. Together, these results demonstrate that some ways of asking questions about media use are better than others. I conclude with a discussion of survey-based exposure measures for online political information and the applicability of this article’s direct method of exposure measurement for future studies.

Political Analysis