Misusing Polls in the Media: The Consequences of Survey Clickbait

Sunshine Hillygus
Date & Time Mar 23 2023 12:00 PM - 1:20 PM
Location Wallace Hall
Sunshine Hillygus, Duke University
Audience Restricted to Princeton graduate students, faculty, and fellows

In today’s competitive information environment, clicks are the currency of the digital media landscape. Clickbait journalism attempts to entice attention with provocative and sensational headlines, and these often include reference to polling results about the public’s shocking beliefs or ignorance. Does such survey clickbait—polling that relies on dubious questions or misleading interpretations—undermine perceptions of Americans’ capacity for democratic citizenship? In two survey experiments, we find that exposure to apolitical survey clickbait unduly inflates perceptions of the American public’s ignorance and capacity for democratic citizenship. Reassuringly, the experiments do not find statistically significant impacts on downstream policy attitudes such as voting restrictions. Nonetheless, this study highlights the potential negative implications of survey clickbait and the need for scholarly attention to understanding its role in today’s media environment.