Analyzing predictors of knowledge, beliefs, and public engagement: has political entertainment become a factor?

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Alabama Libraries

Within the backdrop of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, this study collected data from an online survey of college students in considering factors predicting knowledge, beliefs, and public engagement. A proposed model synthesized theoretical contributions from knowledge gap theory, belief gap approaches, and entertainment theories. Predictor variables included four areas of interest: demographics, media use, political views, and political entertainment, with the latter including motivations for engaging (i.e., information-seeking, entertainment value, emotional release, and social involvement). Three research aims guided the conceptualization and operationalization of measures: Research Aim I considered predictors of knowledge about public topics; Research Aim II analyzed predictors of beliefs toward polarizing political issues; and Research Aim III explored factors related to public engagement (e.g., social media news reading, sharing and reacting, and voting intentions). Statistical analyses included regression tests for each of the three research aims and provided significant results. Regarding Research Aim I, education was found to be a significant predictor of knowledge, such that higher education predicted greater knowledge; news customization was significant, such that those engaging in customization of news feed predicted greater knowledge compared to those not customizing; and, political entertainment was significant, with those engaging for entertainment value and social involvement showing greater knowledge as compared to those without the motivations. Regarding Research Aim II, sex, religion, news source type, and partisanship were found as significant predictors: Females were more liberal in their beliefs as compared to men; those highly involved in church were more conservative in beliefs as compared to other groups not attending church or infrequently; and those ranking as having a greater polarizing score predicted their beliefs in the same direction as their partisanship view. Regarding Research Aim III, news following and beliefs predicted social media news reading; race, news following, and beliefs predicted social media news sharing; and news following predicted social media news reacting. Also, a greater interest in following news predicted greater reading, sharing, and reacting of stories. In sum, this study found support for a proposed testing model of predictors for the three research aims relating to knowledge, polarizing beliefs, and public engagement.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Mass communication, Information technology, Journalism