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Political Socialization in a Media-Saturated World

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Edited By Esther Thorson, Mitchell S. McKinney and Dhavan Shah

The studies that comprise Political Socialization in a Media Saturated World synthesize, question, and update our knowledge of political socialization that has accumulated over the past 40 years of related research. The scholarship advances innovative theoretical perspectives and develops new models of the socialization process that revolve around the key social structures of family, media, peers, and school. The Hierarchy Model of Political Socialization, in particular, provides a comprehensive conceptual framework for organizing and analyzing youth responses to the political. With research that spans multiple election cycles across nearly a decade, and data drawn from a national panel study that allows for cross-generational comparison, the findings and models of political socialization presented provide the most comprehensive and in-depth examination of youth political socialization that exists to date. This book provides a foundation and research agenda for examining the Millennial generation in the coming years as these citizens mature to adults and become the driving force of society and our polity.
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Chapter Five: Knowledge Gap in a Media-Saturated Presidential Election

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CHAPTER FIVE

Knowledge Gap IN A Media-Saturated Presidential Election

JOONGHWA LEE, CHANG DAE HAM, AND ESTHER THORSON



With political information now available from all kinds of online content, 24/7 cable news, mobile media, late-night satire, in addition to more traditional news sources such as newspapers and local and network television, it is hard to imagine that any American today would fail to acquire the most basic political knowledge. Indeed, with continuous innovations in digital technology, news and political information are now available constantly via one’s smartphone and recirculate and echoe endlessly in social networks and blogs. The ubiquity of political communication and news leads us to question whether classic knowledge gaps remain in today’s media-saturated environment? The focus of the current study examines adolescent political socialization processes, and our exploration is guided by acknowledged assumptions that parental education and political participation interact with media use to produce knowledge gaps.

In our investigation of the knowledge gap hypothesis it is important to recognize that as innovations in media technology facilitate greater access to news, there is also a simultaneous increase in entertainment content. As Neil Postman (1985) argued more than 25 years ago, citizens may well now be amusing themselves to death, often to the detriment of learning about one’s world, including the political world during a high salience U.S. presidential campaign. A more modern version of Postman’s lament (e.g., Prior, 2005, 2007) suggests that with the proliferation...

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