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date: 23 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Most scholars agree that the effects of mass communication are more than minimal. We find, however, that most communication effects are short-lived, involve mainly weakly held attitudes, and produce no political consequences. Party cues conveyed in mass communication can change attitudes, but usually weakly held ones; when individuals hold strong views, they often change parties rather than change attitudes. Non-partisan communication may not durably change any attitudes, even weakly held ones. These conclusions, derived from field studies rather than laboratory experiments, raise the old minimal effects question in a new form: How politically important are the effects of mass communication? Our answer is that it depends on context. Short-term communication effects can be quite consequential if they occur close to a relevant political decision, such as an election or congressional vote. Communication that continues over a long period of time, such as messages carrying the value of racial equality, may also be important. Short-term or episodic communication that aims to produce a generally informed citizenry, independent of any political decision, may have little importance.

Keywords: persuasion, communication effects, mass communication, duration of communication effects, party cues

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