"What Did They Just Say?": Unexpected Messaging and Political Persuasion
Political persuasion research has long focused on the various factors of persuasion – source, message, audience, and medium – with partisan identity inevitably being considered the dominant predictor of whether persuasion occurs. However, in studying these factors of persuasion, the existing literature has considered them in isolation from each other rather than in interaction. Ignoring the ways in which these factors may interact – and the implications these interactions may have for how persuasion occurs – results in an incomplete and inaccurate picture of the ways in which individuals receive and process political information. Through a series of original survey experiments conducted on various survey platforms, this dissertation develops an interactive framework of political persuasion, using the communication strategy of unexpected messaging as an example. The results illustrate (1) unexpected messaging can lead to a significant increase in the evaluations of perceived trustworthiness and expertise of political speakers and sources of political information, and that these evaluations can even lead to shifts in policy opinions, a particularly critical finding in today’s polarized political environment; (2) unexpected messaging breaks through the partisanship barrier, causing respondents of both political parties to more positively evaluate speakers, and to vote across party lines; and (3) when partisan and policy cues are salient, the partisanship of the audience receiving an unexpected message determines how the message will be interpreted.
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