National presidential advertising: An unaided and aided recall study of selective exposure toward 1996 candidates' television commercials

John Allen Hendricks

Abstract

The general theory of cognitive dissonance and the specific phenomenon of selective exposure served as this study's theoretical foundation. The concept of selective exposure derives from the theory of cognitive dissonance. With that theoretical base, the purpose of this study was to determine whether certain variables contributed to the attentiveness levels, or selective exposure, to political commercials. Specifically, this study was concerned with selective exposure toward political television advertising during the 1996 presidential election. The primary assertion of this study was that individuals selectively attend to political commercials that reinforce their political beliefs (e.g., Republicans are more likely to pay attention to Republican candidates' commercials than Democratic candidates' commercials). That is, by seeking political information, via advertising, which is consistent (consonant) with one's already-held political beliefs and attitudes, there is a reduction of cognitive dissonance. This study attempted to determine whether the specific variables of (a) political party preference, (b) candidate preference, (c) interest in politics, (d) salience of vote, (e) confidence about candidate choice, (f) commitment level toward a candidate, and (g) utility of political advertising influenced selective exposure. The study found support for the overall theory of selective exposure in regard to televised political advertising during a presidential campaign. Overall, this study revealed that the variables of (a) party preference, (b) candidate preference, (c) political interest, and (d) salience of vote were specific conditions under which selective exposure occurs.