Cross-cutting Messages and Voter Turnout: Evidence from a Same-Sex Marriage Amendment

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4 Scopus citations


Does disagreement stimulate political participation, or discourage it? Some researchers find that exposure to cross-cutting views demobilizes voters. Selection bias in the way individuals expose themselves to disagreement and other sources of endogeneity pose challenges to causal inference. I address these concerns by using an experimental design that exogenously assigns cross-cutting or reinforcing messages. A random sample of North Carolina Democrats and Republicans received postcards summarizing either liberal or conservative opinions on a statewide same-sex marriage amendment. I find that individuals exposed to disagreement demobilize by 1.0 to 1.6 percentage points, with the majority of the combined effect attributable to a 2.0-percentage point decrease in turnout among Republicans receiving a Democratic message. I observe a similar level of demobilization when defining disagreement on the basis of predicted issue position on same-sex marriage in place of partisan affiliation. The effects are strongest among moderate supporters of traditional marriage that receive a cross-cutting treatment. The experimental design thus enables causal evidence on the nuanced interactions between political or issue position and exposure to campaign information from the opposing side.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-459
Number of pages27
JournalPolitical Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • cross-cutting messages
  • demobilization
  • field experiments
  • political participation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science


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