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Citizens' political knowledge is regarded as a vital element for well-functioning democracies. Accordingly, there is a vibrant literature assessing the link between individuals' news seeking behavior and learning about public affairs. There are, however, more limited efforts devoted to clarifying how incidental news exposure may facilitate political learning. So far, inconclusive research findings have offered positive, null or even negative effects, emphasizing an urge for scholars to further explore this relationship. Drawing upon U.S. representative survey data, this study seeks to explicate and further advance the (paradoxical) paths that connect citizens' incidental news exposure and political knowledge, both directly and indirectly. Our analysis first shows either null or mild negative direct associations between incidental news exposure and political knowledge. However, relying on a two serial mediators' model, when citizens thoroughly engage with and cognitively elaborate on the information they unintentionally stumble upon, incidental news exposure is associated with positive mediated effects on political learning. This study provides evidence for a better understanding over the potential direct and indirect mechanisms that both facilitate and hinder political knowledge acquisition through inadvertent news consumption.
cognitive elaboration; democracy; incidental news exposure; political knowledge; thorough information engagement