The influence of television fiction on political attitudes

Russ Tisinger, University of Pennsylvania


The continual presence of political content on entertainment programs has prompted a wider recognition that fictional programs as significant sources of influence on political attitudes (Delli Carpini & Williams, 2001a; Gamson, 1999; Mutz 2001). Despite this acknowledgement, a solid body of empirical evidence of fiction's influence on political attitudes—and the process it might involve—is still lacking. Political scientists and communication scholars have only sporadically pursued fiction as an important piece of the puzzle of public opinion formation. Meanwhile, some psychologists and communication scholars have taken up the study of narrative persuasion as a way of understanding fiction's influence. While this stream of experimental research indicates that fiction can indeed influence general attitudes about the real world, little of it addresses political attitudes specifically. Another limitation of this literature is that the vast majority of it has addressed fiction in print, not in a televised, audio-visual format. The goal of the dissertation is to build upon our knowledge of fictional influence on political attitudes by 1) testing whether fictional programs can influence attitudes about public policy and given that they can, 2) comparing audience perceptions and beliefs about fiction and nonfiction programs through a survey of television viewers, and 3) testing a model of fiction's influence which suggests audiences form political attitudes by engaging in a conscious consideration of information presented on fictional television programs. The dissertation uses a survey of the national television audience and an experiment involving exposure to a fictional television program. The data suggest that while fiction can indeed influence attitudes about public policy, but the results do not support an active engagement with fictional programs. Rather, they are consistent with an indirect, subconscious form of influence such as priming.^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Political Science, General|Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

Tisinger, Russ, "The influence of television fiction on political attitudes" (2010). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3414205.