313 Robertson Hall
Woodrow Wilson School
Prior is Associate Professor of Politics and Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson
School and the Department of Politics at Princeton University. He directs the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics (CSDP) in the Woodrow Wilson School.
Prior received his Ph.D.
from Stanford`s Department of Communication in 2004. He won the 2008
Emerging Scholar Award from the American Political Science Association's
Elections, Public Opinion, and Voting Behavior Section. Prior is the author of Post-Broadcast Democracy
(Cambridge University Press, 2007), which won the 2009 Goldsmith Book Prize,
awarded by Harvard`s Joan Shorenstein Center, and the 2010 Doris Graber Award for the "best book on political communication in the last 10 years" given by APSA's Political Communication Section. The book examines how broadcast television,
cable television, and the Internet have changed politics in the United States
over the last half-century. Prior's work has also appeared in the American Political Science Review,
the American Journal of
Political Science, the Journal
of Politics, the Annual Review of Political Science, Public Opinion Quarterly and Political Communication.
and Development of Political Interest
Some people are more interested in politics than others. Yet why this is so remains largely unclear,
because political scientists have devoted little attention to studying political interest as a dependent
variable. Where political interest comes from and how it changes is significant because interest has
strong effects on many other political cognitions and behaviors, and because, as Post-Broadcast Democracy
demonstrated, these effects appear to be growing. As political interest is very stable over the life cycle
, understanding the origins of political interest in childhood and adolescence becomes important.
It is the subject of my current book project.
The Effect of Cable and Internet on American Politics
Post-Broadcast Democracy examines systematically how changes in the media environment affect political behavior.
Using experiments and new survey data, it shows how changes in the media environment reverberate through the political system,
affecting news exposure, political learning, turnout, and voting behavior. Television, by virtue of being both easy to follow
and hard to resist, drew the less educated into the news audience. In the 1970s and `80s, more people watched television news
than at any other time, but only because they had little choice. Many of them were not very interested in politics and not
very partisan. Today, cable television and the Internet offer people a lot more choice, so those with little interest now watch
entertainment instead of news. News junkies, on the other hand, can follow politics around the clock. Because news exposure
motivates political participation, entertainment fans participate less, news junkies more. As a result, political involvement
becomes more unequal and elections more polarized. Prior
provides an updated account of the link between partisan
media and political polarization. Prior
(in Kenski & Jamieson)
offers an extended discussion of the current media environment
and political accountability.
Partisanship, Partisan Media and Partisan Bias
Partisanship is fundamental factor in American politics, media, and voter psychology. Post-Broadcast Democracy
demonstrated that greater media choice made elections more partisan in the last quarter of the 20th century. But we see
the compositional effects of cable years before partisan news outlets emerged. After reviewing existing research, Prior
finds no compelling evidence that partisan media have made Americans more partisan. Most voters avoid partisan
media altogether or watch both sides. Those who follow partisan media closely and select mostly one side are already
partisan. Evidence that the power of partisanship is sometimes exaggerated also comes from an experiment that varies
respondentsí accuracy motivation. In response to factual questions about economic conditions, Republicans and Democrats
differ significantly less when they are paid for correct answers. We conclude that in surveys without incentives, partisans
sometimes give partisan-congenial answers they know to be incorrect
(working paper, with Sood and Khanna).
Origins and Measurement of Political Knowledge
Learning from exposure to news and politics is important for democratic citizenship and a key outcome in examined in
Post-Broadcast Democracy. In several other projects, I examined how to best measure political knowledge and
why measurement matters. An experiment that pays some survey respondents for correct answers to factual questions
demonstrates that some people fail to answer correctly even though they know the answer--they are just not sufficiently
motivated to search their memories
(AJPS 2008, with Lupia).
Another study develops and implements a way to measure
visual political knowledge. Experiments show that some people, including women and the less educated, store political
information visually. Exclusively verbal knowledge measures thus disadvantage them
compares knowledge of soft news and hard news. An ongoing project aims to explain why Republicans and Democrats give
different answers to factual questions about economic conditions
(working paper, with Sood and Khanna).
News Audiences and Audience Measurement
Without knowing how much and what kind of media content people watch, read, and hear, it is very difficult to examine
the political effects of media exposure. Unfortunately, survey-based measures of media exposure that rely on respondents'
self-reports are seriously flawed. In a series of studies, I have demonstrated significant misreporting in exposure to network
and presidential debates
Survey respondents appear to give incorrect
answers not because they want to look good, but because the task of recalling and estimating their exposure is too difficult
Modified self-report questions can vary demands on respondents, but the fundamental flaw of low validity persists
We must find ways to measure exposure without relying on respondents' own reports.
Prior, Markus (forthcoming). Visual Political Knowledge: A Different Road to Competence? Journal of Politics. pdf
Prior, Markus (forthcoming). The Challenge of Measuring Media Exposure: Reply to Dilliplane, Goldman, and Mutz. Political Communication. pdf
Prior, Markus (2013). Media and Political Polarization. Annual Review of Political Science, 16: 101-27. pdf
Prior, Markus (forthcoming).
Conditions for Political Accountability in a High-Choice Media Environment. In: Kate Kenski and Kathleen Hall Jamieson (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Political Communication, Oxford University Press. pdf
Prior, Markus (2012). Who Watches Presidential Debates? Measurement Problems in Campaign Effects Research. Public Opinion Quarterly, 76 (2): 350-363. pdf
Prior, Markus (2010). You've Either Got It or You Don’t? The Stability of Political Interest over the Life Cycle. Journal of Politics, 72 (3): 747-766. pdf
Prior, Markus (2009).
Improving Media Effects Research through Better Measurement of News Exposure. Journal of Politics, 71 (3): 893-908. pdf
Prior, Markus (2009). The
Immensely Inflated News Audience: Assessing Bias in Self-Reported News
Exposure. Public Opinion
Quarterly, 73 (1): 130-143. pdf
Prior, Markus and Arthur Lupia
(2008). Money, Time, and Political Knowledge: Distinguishing Quick Recall and
Political Learning Skills. American
Journal of Political Science, 52 (1): 168-182. pdf
Prior, Markus (2006). The
Incumbent in the Living Room: The Rise of Television and the Incumbency
Advantage in U.S. House Elections. Journal
of Politics, 68 (3): 657-673. pdf
Prior, Markus (2005). News v.
Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge
and Turnout. American
Journal of Political Science, 49 (3): 594-609. pdf
Prior, Markus (2003). Any Good
News in Soft News? The Impact of Soft News Preference on Political Knowledge.
20 (2): 149-171. pdf