When Survey Respondents Cheat: Internet Exposure and Ideological Consistency in the United States

Bethany P. Bryson


Increasingly biased Internet news and information is frequently cited as a cause of opinion polarization in the United States. But is it that easy for media messages to influence political opinion? Matched samples of face-to-face versus online respondents in the 2012 and 2016 American National Election Studies reveal that about 23% of online respondents likely “cheated” by referencing the Internet to inform their answers. Doing so allowed those participants to provide more ideologically consistent responses to 41 survey questions, creating a strikingly bimodal distribution of reported opinion by pulling moderate answers to the political right. Quantile regression confirms these results. Probable cheating also increased the effect of Internet news source bias. These findings suggest that in-the-moment Internet messages can influence reported opinions, not because Internet media consumers are duped, but because online information empowers them to give answers 


media influence, polarization, political knowledge, media bias, online surveys

Full Text: