Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version

October 2006


This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The author would like to thank R. Andrew Holbrook and Shiloh Krieger for their help with data collection, and special thanks are due to Byron Reeves for his help with the collection and analysis of physiological data.


How do Americans acquire the impression that their political foes have some understandable basis for their views, and thus represent a legitimate opposition? How do they come to believe that reasonable people may disagree on any given political controversy? Given that few people talk regularly to those of opposing perspectives, some theorize that mass media, and television in particular, serve as an important source of exposure to the rationales for oppositional views. A series of experimental studies suggests that television does, indeed, have the capacity to encourage greater awareness of oppositional perspectives. However, common characteristics of televised political discourse cause audiences to view oppositional issue perspectives as less legitimate than they would have otherwise. I discuss the broader implications of these findings for assessments of the impact of television on the political process, and for the role that televised political discourse may play in encouraging polarized political views.