Social Provision of Information for Effective Democratic Citizens (2022-2023)


Research in political science, psychology and economics has extensively documented the routine failures of ordinary citizens to fulfill the duties expected of them under democratic theory. These failures arise primarily from a conflict between two prevailing interests as voters navigate participation in the democratic process: a desire to make the best decision and a desire to make an easy decision. 

The path to being an informed citizen has become increasingly complicated due to technological changes that have made it easier for disinformation to flourish. As a result, it becomes more challenging for corrective information to reach citizens, and more challenging for news consumers to identify accurate and reliable news and information sources. 

This evolution of the media environment has contributed to an increased gravitation towards hyper-partisan news sources, in a process that has been labeled "the spiral of partisanship." Evidence of extreme partisanship's threat to the stability of democracy has been made clear over the past couple of years. Researchers have documented the causes of disinformation and hyper-partisanship and the consequences on community health and the democratic process, but little research has sought to identify effective interventions.

Project Description

This project team will explore remedies to the growing information gap that currently confronts democracy. Team members will conduct a multi-method exploration of possible approaches to remedying the gap between the information that citizens can easily get and the information they need to be effective citizens. This project extends the research work of the DeWitt Wallace Center's News Measures Research Project (NMRP). This project also seeks to extend the community engagement component of the work of the Center. NMRP engages with and reports on the Durham community, providing a valuable local news resource in communities like Durham. 

This project will explore three interrelated interventions:

  1. Information subsidies: Team members will manipulate access to a high-quality political information resource and measure the effect of this access on news consumption, political knowledge, engagement, voting behavior, trust in government and trust in media. The field experiment will be conducted using a probability sample of households in a nearby county, randomly assigning select households that respond to an initial ostensibly unrelated survey to receive a News & Observer subscription. A follow-up survey after the 2022 election will measure the differences in outcomes between treated and untreated households.
  2. Media/digital literacy intervention: This “early intervention” objective aims to understand which media literacy tactics work best with children and teenagers. This prong aims to answer the following questions: 1) What are the best ways to teach children and teenagers the difference between facts and falsehoods?; 2) Does fact-checking by teenagers for teenagers, for example, have greater impact than traditional fact-checking efforts?; 3) Are some tactics more effective with students who identify as white, but less so with Black and Hispanic students, and vice versa?; and 4) Do students from more comfortable financial backgrounds consume news differently than those from poorer families? If there are differences, what are the implications for the students themselves and society at large? Working in partnership with select Durham Public Schools, team members will deliver a set of media literacy education modules that will be accompanied by pre- and post-tests to evaluate their effectiveness and to assess whether race and class variables are significantly related to the effectiveness of the interventions. 
  3. Community information needs assessment: The team will conduct three focus groups with a diverse selection of community members to discuss how they meet their information needs and the types of resources they feel would be useful in assisting them to become better informed participants in the democratic process. The findings will be used to inform and strengthen the Dewitt Wallace Center's 9th Street Journal.

Anticipated Outputs

Media literacy education program; public-facing white paper; academic/professional conference paper/journal publications


Summer 2022 – Spring 2023

  • Summer 2022 (optional): Start IRB application; design survey; recruit study participants
  • Fall 2022: Conduct literature reviews; submit IRB application; recruit focus group participants; create media literacy curriculum
  • Spring 2023: Analyze focus group data; write initial white papers, journal publications and mainstream media articles

This Team in the News

Democracy in America: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of How To Strengthen Democracy

Meet the Members of the 2022-2023 Student Advisory Council

Meet the Winners of the 2023 Bass Connections Student Research Awards

Screens and applications.

Team Leaders

  • Stephen Buckley, Sanford School of Public Policy-DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy
  • Philip Napoli, Sanford School of Public Policy-DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy
  • Asa Royal, Sanford School of Public Policy-DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy
  • Andrew Trexler, Sanford School of Public Policy|Arts & Sciences-Political Science

/graduate Team Members

  • Jamie Chornoby, Masters of Public Policy
  • Chandlee Jackson, Masters of Public Policy
  • Micaela Simeone, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Pranav Athimuthu, Psychology (AB)
  • Leah Boyd, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Meghan Durkin
  • Trinity Florence, Psychology (AB)
  • Annaleise Linkenhoker
  • Amelia Meier, DKU Interdisciplinary Studies (BA)
  • Kaylee Rodriguez, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Madeline Wray, Public Policy Studies (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Leslie Babinski, Social Science Research Institute-Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Sunshine Hillygus, Arts & Sciences-Political Science