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Political Communication Workshops

About the workshops

The Political Communication Workshop is intended to draw together students and faculty working in political communication and political psychology at the University of Michigan. The workshop takes the form of several invited guest lectures, working on topics of broad interest in political communication.

Faculty Coordinator: Yanna Krupnikov
GraduateStudent Coordinators: Brianna Zichettella and Audrey Halversen
For additional information, please contact [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected].


Winter 2024

The Political Communication Working Group will meet on the following Fridays from 11 a.m. to 12:20 p.m in ISR (Thompson) Room 6080 (exceptions are indicated below). If you are interested in presenting an in-progress project on political communication or would like to be added to our mailing list, please contact one of the coordinators.

January 26
February 2
February 16
February 23
March 15 *in ISR Thompson Room 6050
March 22
March 29
April 5

Our guest speaker for Winter 2024 is Taylor Carlson (Washington University in St. Louis) on February 16, presenting “Through the Grapevine: Socially Transmitted Information and Distorted Democracy.”
Abstract: Accurate information about politics is at the heart of democratic functioning. For decades, those concerned with the information environment have understandably focused on mass media, but many Americans do not learn about politics from direct engagement with the news. Indeed, about one-third of Americans learn about politics from socially transmitted information they acquire from conversations with others and social media. How does socially transmitted information differ from information communicated by mass media? And what are the consequences for political behavior? Drawing on evidence from experiments, surveys, and social media, Carlson finds that, as information flows from the media to person to person, it becomes sparse, more biased, less accurate, and more mobilizing. This results in distorted democracy. Although socially transmitted information does not necessarily render democracy dysfunctional, it does contribute to a public that is at once underinformed, polarized, and engaged.  


Past events in this series

The Character of Connection: Platform Affordances and Democratic Outcomes

Nov. 3, 2023: Sarah Shugars, Rutgers University

While social media optimistically holds the potential to ameliorate political divides by increasing cross-cutting political talk, numerous studies suggest that social media has instead exacerbated political polarization and increased toxic political discourse. Yet, social media is incredibly heterogeneous and variation in platform affordances may result in markedly different democratic outcomes. In this talk, I will examine how platform affordances of Twitter and Reddit intersect with everyday political talk on those platforms. This includes work examining the use of images and memes as political speech, an examination of gender presentation online, and a cross-platform study of discussion quality. We find that Twitter conversations are highly polarized across topics while Reddit displays some promise for enabling productive, intergroup discourse. We argue that this difference is driven by an affordance of conversational visibility in which users can see and engage with conversations as a whole. We further argue that “community” is a distinctive platform affordance that emerges from shared user expectations. This affordance supports user socialization into democratic norms of productive intergroup contact and therefore may prove particularly important to enhancing connective democracy.

Social Media as Public Opinion in the News: Production, Attributes, and Effects

March 29, 2019: Shannon McGregor, University of Utah
Workshop will take place from 10:45 am-12:30pm in 6080 ISR-Thompson.


From news encounters to news engagement: Assessing the potential of “incidental” news exposure on social media

March 22, 2019: Anna Kümpel (LMU Munich)
Workshop will take place from 10:45 am-12:30pm in 6080 ISR-Thompson.


Although originally established as platforms for building and maintaining social relations, social network sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Twitter have become a key part of online users’ news diets. On SNS, even individuals who are not motivated to seek out news are believed to be exposed to news posts due to the sharing activities of their contacts, sponsored posts by news providers, or algorithmic content curation. This type of exposure has been referred to as incidental news exposure (INE) and can be defined as encountering news or current affairs information without actively seeking it. As reflected in expressions like “accidentally informed” (Tewksbury et al., 2001) or “participation equalizer” (Valeriani and Vaccari, 2016), research on the effects of INE has largely focused on its potential for beneficial effects such as fostering the learning of political information or increasing political participation. However, despite the common conceptualization as “happy accidents”, there are good reasons to question the accidentalness of INE (Thorson, 2018).

In this talk, building on theoretical considerations and own empirical findings, I argue that INE research needs to consider the unequal chances to both be exposed to news on SNS and to actually engage (i.e., read and interact) with ‘accidentally’ encountered news content. Not only are some SNS users systematically more likely to encounter links to news articles in their feeds, but also more inclined to click on said links and read the full journalistic piece. Through discussing prevalent inequalities, I propose the existence of a “Matthew Effect” in social media news use, suggesting enrichment among users already interested in news and impoverishment among those with little or no interest in current affairs information.

The Politics of Deciding What’s News and How to Report It: Three Survey Experiments on American Journalists

October 19, 2018: Michael Wagner, University of Wisconsin
Workshop will take place from 1:30pm – 3:00pm in ISR 6080


Expression, Amplification, and Contention: Communication Mediation in a New Media Ecology

September 22, 2017: Dhavan Shah, University of Wisconsin
Workshop will take place from 11am – 12:30pm in ISR 6080


The Communication Mediation Model contends that conversation serves as a conduit for media influence on participation. Changes in communication systems, media audiences, and political campaigns call this model into question. Its current formulation fails to account for the growing convergence of news and talk via social media and the deepening institutional and social distrust accompanying heightened partisan polarization. Illustrating these changes with three studies that span conventional and computational methods, this presentation explores (1) the nature of online expression during presidential debates, (2) the factors that drive presidential campaign coverage, and (3) the influence of cloistered communication ecologies on the erosion of institutional legitimacy and social trust. An alternate model of mediated communication that emphasizes expression, amplification, and contention is proposed.

Media Exposure Measures: Still an Embarrassment for the Discipline?

October 6, 2017: Claes de Vreese, University of Amsterdam
Workshop will take place from 2pm-3:30pm in ISR 6050


News and Democracy in the Era of Trump

February 10, 2017: Regina Lawrence (Oregon)


Less than Meets the Eye? The Effects of Casualty News on Domestic Support for America’s Wars

October 14, 2016: Scott Althaus


Democratic Accountability for Some

October 2, 2015: Kevin Arcenaux


Theories of democratic accountability acknowledge that people are different. Nonetheless, these same models often presume that people respond to the political environment in the same way. Recent research establishes that stable individual-level differences in psychological motivations cause people to respond to the political environment in different ways. Professor Arceneaux discusses ongoing research with his collaborator, Ryan Vander Wielen, which investigates how individual differences in information processing influence the role of partisanship in American politics and shape the contours of democratic accountability.

Campaigning Online: Web Display Ads in the 2012 Presidential Campaign

November 20, 2015: Sunshine Hillygus


Although much of what we know about political advertising comes from the study of television advertising alone, online advertising is an increasingly prominent part of political campaigning. Research on other online political communication—especially candidate websites, blogs, and social media—tends to conclude that these communications are primarily aimed at turning existing supporters into campaign donors, activists, and volunteers. Is a similar communication strategy found in online display ads—the ads seen adjacent to website content? We examine 840 unique online display ads from the 2012 presidential campaign to explore the nature, content, and targets of online display advertising. We show that the policy content, tone, ad location, and interactive elements of the ads varied based on the audience, with persuasive appeals aimed at undecided or persuadable voters and engagement appeals aimed at existing supporters. Comparing ad content across candidates also finds that each side focused on those issues for which the candidate had a strategic advantage. As a consequence, we find little issue engagement in online advertising, in contrast to the conclusions of previous research on television advertising.

No Need to Watch: How the Effects of Partisan Media Can Spread via Inter-Personal Discussions

January 22, 2016: Jamie Druckman 


Over the last quarter-century, the political news landscape has transformed. One notable change has been the rise of partisan media sources. How do partisan media sources influence public opinion? We address this question by exploring not only how partisan media directly influence individuals’ attitudes, but also how interpersonal discussions shape the impact of partisan media. We present experimental results showing that, depending on the nature of the discussion group, conversations can nullify or amplify partisan media effects. Perhaps more importantly, we also find that those who are not directly exposed to partisan media are still susceptible to its effects. This occurs via a two-stage process such that exposed individuals influence those who have not been previously exposed. We conclude with a discussion of what our results imply about the study of media effects and partisan polarization.

Do Campaigns Matter? Stability, Competition, & Counterfactuals

January 16, 2015: Lynn Vavreck, UCLA


Presidential elections are like a game of tug-of-war. Both sides are pulling very hard. If, for some reason, one side let go—meaning they stopped campaigning—then the other side would soon benefit. But of course the candidates do not let go and that makes it hard to see that their efforts are making a difference. That the polls are not moving may seem to suggest that the two campaigns are ineffective. I have argued that it means they are equally effective. The stability and competition inherent in presidential campaigns makes it hard to uncover effects from candidates’ efforts, but creative research designs that focus on providing productive counterfactuals can help researchers tell important and accessible stories about political attitudes and behavior. In this talk, I will highlight the challenges of finding campaign effects in highly competitive contests and talk about some projects that have tried to provide unique design-based solutions to these challenges.

Fear and Loathing in Party Politics

November 14, 2014: Shanto Iyengar, Stanford



Events are held at the Institute for Social Research.

This group also organizes weekly lab meetings, involving faculty and students. Labs are held on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 12:20 at the Institute for Social Research.


Rackham Graduate School
Center for Political Studies (CPS)
Department of Political Science
Department of Communication and Media