Opinion Polls in Context: Partisan Embeddedness, Source Confusion, and the Effects of Socially Transmitted Polls

Min-Hsin Su, Douglas M. McLeod


The digital media environment has transformed the ways information about “collective preference” is communicated. Using 2 survey experiments, this study examines how embedded context may condition the processing and influence of an opinion poll in a multicue, source-confusion environment. Our results suggest that, in general, opinion polls are evaluated more negatively when the results are embedded in a politician’s tweet. Consistent with motivated reasoning, congruent polls that support one’s side tend to be perceived as more credible, which in turn leads to a more polarized issue position via poll-aligned opinion climate perception. This self-serving perception may be heightened by politician repurposing of polling outcomes, especially in the lack of pollster brand names. Importantly, there is partisan asymmetry in how contextual information may alter the processing of polling results. Above and beyond an average effect, politician uptake of polling data undermines a poll’s perceived credibility to a greater extent among Democrats than Republicans.


opinion poll, motivated reasoning, credibility judgment, source confusion, partisan asymmetry

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