Media and Politics Research Paper

This sample Media and Politics Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. Like other free research paper examples, it is not a custom research paper. If you need help writing your assignment, please use our custom writing services and buy a paper on any of the political science research paper topics. This sample Research Paper on Media and Politics features: 7000+ words (25 pages), APA format, in-text citations, and a bibliography with 41 sources.

Outline

I. Introduction

II. Media Ownership, Consolidation, and the Marketplace of Ideas

A. The Role of Media in Democracies

B. Ownership and Regulation

C. Media Consolidation

III. Media Bias

IV. Politicians’ Use of Media

A. Political Advertising

B. Going Public

V. Basic Models of Media Effects

A. Hypodermic Model

B. Minimal Effects Model

C. Subtle Effects: Agenda Setting, Priming, and Framing

1. Agenda Setting

2. Priming

3. Framing

D. Factors Limiting Subtle Media Effects

VI. New Media

A. New Media and Participation

VII. Future Directions

I. Introduction

The question of how the media affect politics is complicated, but in its most basic formulation, the correct answer to it is this: It depends. Although early conventional wisdom held that the media had strong, direct, so-called hypodermic effects, more recent research provides convincing evidence that individual-level and contextual factors significantly influence the extent to which media affect people’s political behavior and beliefs and, eventually, public policy. The intent of this research paper is to serve as an introduction to some of the basic theories, insights, and debates about media and politics. In doing so, it touches on issues of media ownership, media bias, politicians’ use of media, scholarly models of media effects, and new media. The final section of the research paper discusses some fruitful areas for future research.

II. Media Ownership, Consolidation, and the Marketplace of Ideas

A. The Role of Media in Democracies

The media are commonly understood to be able to— and many would argue, obligated to—provide a forum for the expression and discussion of a diverse range of oftentimes conflicting ideas. This is especially important in the run-up to elections, where citizens are to base their decisions at least partially on whose policy proposals they deem most attractive. However, even when elections are far off, this type of discussion serves to inform citizens, and most scholars believe that democracy benefits from a more knowledgeable citizenry.

This forum function of the media is often defended from the perspective of truth seeking, the argument being that only through the meeting of diverse opinions will the truth emerge. This is known as the marketplace of ideas perspective. There are at least two main lines of criticism to this approach. First, many would contest the notion of truth seeking in politics. The meat of politics, this perspective suggests, is value conflict, which in the final analysis is irreconcilable. Thus, there is no underlying truth or fundamental consensus that may be exposed through discussion.

Nonetheless, it seems uncontroversial that most debates benefit from the provision of factual information and from discussion of what implications different value priorities have in the policy area at hand. In modern societies, this would be impossible without the media. There are, however, profound concerns about the extent to which the media provide the information and perspective necessary to an intelligent consideration of the merits and implications of policy. This lies at the root of an objection to the marketplace of ideas as applied to modern societies: Even if an uncontroversial truth did exist, today’s media coverage of the issues is not conducive to helping citizens divine it. In Graber’s (2003) words, “The cacophony of voices in today’s marketplace of ideas often confuses nonexperts more than it enlightens them” (p. 144). In the electoral context, the media are also widely criticized for a lack of attention to substance, in favor of the horse race and strategic dimensions of electoral politics (Patterson, 1993).

B. Ownership and Regulation

This is not to say that democracy would be better off without the media or without a marketplace of ideas. It merely indicates that the current mass media are not serving the public very well. One proposed reason for this, especially in the U.S. context, pertains to media ownership. What sets U.S. media apart from other media systems is private ownership and the relative independence from government regulation.

Worldwide, there is much variation in terms of public versus private ownership, but one can distinguish among three basic models of media ownership: purely public, mixed, and purely commercial (Iyengar & McGrady, 2007). In general, public broadcasting is publicly funded, through either fees or taxes. In return for public funding, public broadcasters are required to provide a certain level of public affairs programming. With the emergence of cable, very few countries still have purely public television markets, having transitioned instead to a mixed model featuring both public and commercial stations.

Public ownership is associated with some clear patterns. Content analysis shows that levels of political content are significantly higher on public channels than on commercial channels (Krüger, 1996). Moreover, comparisons of politics-related coverage on public and commercial outlets indicate that the former provide more substantive coverage and higher proportions of internationally oriented news (Heinderyckx, 1993).

There are also some noted potential drawbacks to public ownership. First, some people resent the expenditure of taxes or the levying of fees for public programming. Second, there are concerns about the compromised independence of publicly owned channels that, depending on government funding, may be disinclined to bite the hand that feeds them, thus resulting in an uncritical attitude toward the powers that be. Although this is most definitely the case in undemocratic regimes, there is no systematic evidence that press freedom is compromised by public ownership in Western democracies. In fact, some studies suggest that press freedom and public ownership are positively correlated in democracies (Iyengar & McGrady, 2007).

C. Media Consolidation

One of the most salient developments in the media landscape is consolidation of ownership into media conglomerates. Bagdikian (1997) demonstrates that fewer and fewer cities have competing daily newspapers: In 1920, 700 cities had such competition, a number that had dropped to 19 by 1996. Independent ownership of newspapers has also declined precipitously, dropping from 83% in 1940 to 24% in 1990. A high and increasing proportion of newspapers is now owned by a limited number of newspaper chains such as Knight-Ridder. This raises concerns about the extent to which there is a viable marketplace of ideas in one-paper towns, both because a larger number of outlets will likely reflect a wider range of ideas and because a lack of competition plausibly reduces incentives for quality reporting. Television networks have likewise been acquired by large companies such as the Disney Corporation (ABC), General Electric (NBC), Viacom (CBS), NewsCorp (Fox), and Time- Warner (CNN).

Whereas network television executives used to expect and accept the lack of profitability of news shows, counting on it to be offset by more profitable entertainment programming, the networks’ new owners have no such perspective, expecting all programming to be as profitable as possible. This has profoundly, and many would argue negatively, affected the production process and content of network news. First, to reduce costs, staff has been cut and foreign bureaus have been closed. Second, the content of the news has shifted from traditional so-called hard news to a blend of entertainment and news known as soft news. The primary goal of news is now to entertain rather than inform. A third hypothesized effect of consolidation is simultaneous censorship of news that reflects badly on the parent company and encouragement of news that reflects well on the company (Erikson & Tedin, 2007).

III. Media Bias

Irrespective of how the news is reported, the media are accused of being biased and lacking objectivity. Left-oriented media critics argue that as businesses, especially in the era of consolidation, the media are dependent on advertising revenue and are thus inclined to tilt to the right and support the status quo. Critics on the right, on the other hand, point to the disproportionate number of liberals and Democrats among journalists as evidence for left-oriented bias in the news. It is impossible to argue with the numbers on this point: Taken as a group, journalists are indeed significantly more liberal and more likely to identify as Democrats. The question remains, however, whether these ideological and partisan preferences translate into biased reporting. The answer to this question is not entirely clear. One study reports that a majority of a sample of journalists suspected that their political opinions sometimes affected their reporting (Dautrich & Deneen, 1996). Another experimental study found only a minor effect of political ideology on how reporters described reporting a hypothetical story (Patterson & Donsbach, 1996).

There are several reasons why the ideological preferences of journalists do not strongly and consistently affect media content. First, journalists take seriously their professional code of ethics. Second, editors, who make the final decisions as to what is published or aired, are responsible to CEOs and other higher-ups in the corporate structure and thus have incentives to make the final media product palatable to these people, who are likely to be more conservative than the reporters.

Important to debates about media bias is the hostile media phenomenon: Irrespective of media content, people see the media as predisposed against their own position and biased toward the opposing camp (Vallone, Ross, & Lepper, 1985). Thus, it may be impossible for the media to be universally regarded as unbiased. Evidence of this is provided in a piece by Dalton, Beck, and Huckfeldt (1998), who find that there is little correspondence between newspapers’ ideological leanings and people’s perceptions of those leanings.

IV. Politicians’ Use of Media

In the age of mass media, politics has changed from a largely interpersonal to a predominantly mediated activity. The public gets virtually all of its political information through the media, and politicians and political groups have adapted to this situation. Media strategies are now part and parcel of electoral campaigning as well as the policy-making process. The most prominent research in this field concerns presidential behavior and campaign advertising, especially the negative variant.

A. Political Advertising

Most of the research on political advertising has focused on its negative tone and the consequences thereof. The classic work along these lines is Ansolabehere and Iyengar’s (1996) Going Negative, which argues that negative advertising causes cynicism about politics and, consequently, depresses voter turnout, especially among independents. This has come to be known as the demobilization hypothesis.

It did not take long for an alternative hypothesis to arise. Proponents of the stimulation hypothesis (e.g., Finkel & Geer, 1998) argue that rather than demobilizing voters, negative ads stimulate turnout by raising the stakes of the election, making emotional appeals, providing information, and increasing people’s motivation to learn about the candidates.

Some serious difficulties for measurement and operationalization characterize the study of the effects of advertising tone on turnout. These difficulties mostly originate in the subjective nature of the concept of negativity. Some scholars (Finkel & Geer, 1998) code ads themselves and decide whether they themselves think they are negative or positive. Others (Wattenberg & Brians, 1999) code voters’ comments on the negative or positive tone of ads they remember.

Another big challenge in the literature is the measurement of ad exposure. Some scholars (Wattenberg & Brians, 1999) simply rely on recollection of ads as a measure of exposure. The method that is perhaps most prevalent is the use of ad archives to get a picture of which ads were aired in which campaigns. These data are subsequently combined with a media exposure variable to arrive at a measure of ad exposure (Finkel & Geer, 1998). Others (Freedman & Goldstein, 1999) combine indicators of people’s media use with rather sophisticated measures of what ads were broadcast, where, and when.

In an effort to establish which of the two sides in the debate is right, Lau, Sigelman, Heldman, and Babbitt (1999) offer a meta-analysis of the literature on this topic. They conclude that there is no reliable statistical basis for the claim that negative advertisements are liked less than positive advertisements. Furthermore, their analysis suggests that there is no evidence that negative ads are more effective than positive ads. Finally, they conclude that the literature thus far does not warrant the contention that negative advertising demobilizes the electorate.

There is thus no compelling evidence that negative advertising hurts voter turnout. Moreover, contrary to conventional wisdom, there is little to back up the claim that negative advertising is particularly effective in persuading people to vote for you (or against your opponent). In fact, one could argue that negative advertising is a boon to the democratic process. Lau, Sigelman, and Rovner (2007), for example, find that negative advertising does not win elections but that it does increase people’s knowledge about the issues and tends to be more memorable than positive appeals. Agreeing with Patterson’s (1993) contention that media coverage of campaigns, in its emphasis on strategy and poll numbers over substance, divides rather than connects candidates and citizens, Franz, Freedman, Goldstein, and Ridout (2007) suggest that political ads are valuable sources of information for voters.

B. Going Public

Politicians have also adjusted to the media in their policy-making efforts. In terms of presidential behavior, the most salient phenomenon is going public (Kernell, 1992). Going public refers to a president going over Congress’s head and appealing to the public directly, oftentimes via a televised address. The goal is to activate or change public opinion, leading to legislators feeling pressured to fall in line with the president’s policy proposal. This strategy is potentially risky, especially for unpopular presidents, and tends to be more prevalent in times of divided government, when the presidency and the legislative branch are controlled by different parties.

V. Basic Models of Media Effects

A. Hypodermic Model

Having discussed some of the literature on what determines media content, it is appropriate to turn to the effects that this content has on citizens. One culturally salient account of media effects holds that those who control the media directly, immediately, and strongly affect what citizens know, believe, and do politically. This model, which has little empirical support, is known as the hypodermic model of media effects, since it depicts the media as injecting information and opinion into the unresisting public. Its effects, then, are like that of a drug that is introduced into the bloodstream.

An anecdotal example of such an effect is Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, which featured a realistically staged report of alien invasion in New Jersey. Although subsequent myth-making has exaggerated the scope and intensity of people’s responses to the broadcast, it is beyond dispute that significant numbers of people took the report at face value and genuinely believed aliens were taking over New Jersey, with some of them taking to the streets, calling law enforcement, and heading out to the location of the alleged Martian sighting.

Another factor contributing to, and echoing, the belief in the hypodermic model is the development of sophisticated propaganda during and in between World Wars I and II. Walter Lippmann (1922), one of the pioneering theorists of media effects, was part of U.S. propaganda efforts during World War I, and this experience led him to believe that the media, especially when speaking in a unified voice, wielded tremendous power over public opinion.

B. Minimal Effects Model

Despite the vivid examples of dramatic media influence and the widespread use of propaganda by governments the world over, disagreement does exist among citizens on virtually all political issues. This suggests that government control over the media is not complete, that the media present a diverse array of opinion, and that people do not simply accept media information as gospel. This, then, indicates a need to think differently about media effects.

One school of thought questioning the hypodermic model developed during the time from the 1940s through the 1960s, in a series of studies interested in explaining whom people vote for (e.g., Lazarsfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1948). These studies were designed in the expectation of demonstrating strong media effects. However, the surprising finding was that the media had surprisingly little influence. What developed as a consequence is the minimal effects model.

The minimal effects model posits three explanations for the lack of a strong influence of the media on political beliefs and behavior. First, partisanship limits the potential of media effects. Many people identify with one of the two major political parties, causing them to be loyal to this party, irrespective of what the media have to say about it.

Second, and related, people tend to screen incoming information so as to only pay attention to that which comports with their partisan and ideological predispositions. People sought out congenial information and attempted to avoid information coming from the opposing party’s campaign. If unable to do the latter, people often misperceived the opposition’s statements, so as to make them consistent with expectations.

Third, minimal effects studies documented the importance of interpersonal conversations. Even if media content was potentially persuasive and caused people to vacillate from their original opinions or develop opinions inconsistent with the party line, conversations with fellow partisans often served to make them return to their preexisting opinions or candidate preferences or to change their developing opinion on a new issue to the party line. This has the added effect of strengthening people’s partisan allegiances, making future departures from party orthodoxy even less likely.

C. Subtle Effects: Agenda Setting, Priming, and Framing

Although few scholars dispute the limiting role of partisan identification on the influence of the media, a number of compelling streams of research have provided intriguing evidence contradicting the notion of minimal effects. In its stead, they encourage a view of politically consequential media influence, without heralding back to the simplistic notion of hypodermic effects.

The basic point of view underlying these streams of research is that although the media clearly do not—or only very rarely do—dramatically, uniformly, and instantaneously alter the public’s views, there are more modest, yet important, ways in which the media affect the public mind. Three processes have received particular attention: agenda setting, priming, and framing.

1. Agenda Setting

The concept of agenda setting finds perhaps its most famous and concise expression in Cohen’s (1963) claim that the media “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think [italics added], but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about” (p. 13). In other words, the agenda-setting hypothesis claims that while media content does not have the hypodermic opinion-changing effect that early research feared it had, it does have great impact in determining what issues people will focus on and judge to be important.

Early work on agenda setting tended to simply compare the issue focus of the mass media in a certain time span with the issues that citizens tended to regard as most important during the same period of time. Although certainly suggestive, these studies do not provide convincing causal evidence of agenda setting. For that reason, many more recent agenda-setting studies have adopted an experimental approach, which allows for a comparison of people exposed to information about certain issues with otherwise identical people who have not had such exposure. Iyengar and Kinder (1987), in News That Matters: Television and American Public Opinion, one of the classic works on agenda-setting, adopted this approach and found suggestive effects of exposure to (fictional) news stories in terms of what issues experimental subjects judged to be important.

Agenda setting is normatively important on its own. Sunstein (2001) suggests that the broadcast media serve— or at least ought to serve—the important role of “creating a kind of shared focus of attention for many millions of people” (p. 35). As such, they create shared experiences among a heterogeneous public and expose people to issues and problems they may not have known about or considered previously. Moreover, as Rogers and Dearing (1988) suggest, the media agenda may affect the public’s agenda, which in turn may have consequences for what issues politicians focus on, thus translating into important policy consequences.

2. Priming

In addition to being important on its own, agenda setting is also important because it relates to priming. Priming refers to the phenomenon that the issues that people judge to be important often become the criteria by which they evaluate politicians (e.g., Krosnick & Kinder, 1990). Thus, any factor affecting public agendas has the potential of affecting politically relevant variables such as presidential approval and the vote. One example of this process concerns George H.W. Bush’s failure to get reelected in 1992, despite having just achieved victory in the first Gulf War. The reason for this, Zaller (1994) argues, is that media attention had shifted from the war to the economy, which was allegedly stalling. As a consequence, the public was primed to evaluate Bush not on the war but on the economy instead, leading to a drop in approval ratings and eventually a failed reelection bid.

3. Framing

Agenda setting and priming thus concern what issues are on people’s minds. Framing, in contrast, is concerned with the presentation of issues or events and the extent to which the nature of the presentation affects people’s opinions about the issue. In Druckman’s (2001) words, “A framing effect occurs when in the course of describing an issue or event, a speaker’s emphasis on a subset of potentially relevant considerations causes individuals to focus on these considerations when constructing their opinions” (p. 1042).

In an important piece, Nelson, Clawson, and Oxley (1997) argue that issue frames can affect issue opinions. The authors conducted an experiment surrounding the issue of whether a certain community ought to allow a Ku Klux Klan rally. One group of participants was shown a news clip focusing on freedom of speech considerations (the Ku Klux Klan, however noxious, has a right to express its opinions), while another was shown a clip emphasizing the public order dimension of the rally (i.e., the potential for violence). The results show that those exposed to the free speech frame were much more likely to support allowing the rally than those who watched the public order frame. Thus, public opinion responds to the different ways in which an issue or controversy can be presented.

D. Factors Limiting Subtle Media Effects

The research summarized previously thus provides evidence that the media can have significant effects. However, much of this work is experimental, and although that enhances its internal validity (i.e., the confidence one can have in terms of causality), it potentially reduces its external validity (the extent to which one can confidently say that the observed effects occur outside of the experimental setting). Fortunately, however, more and more researchers are starting to think deeply about the factors that may limit or encourage media effects. All in all, this represents an effort to lay out the conditions under which media influence is more or less likely, and for whom it is more or less likely.

Zaller’s (1992) work is crucially important here. Most pertinently, he presents the idea that those most likely to be affected by media content are also those least likely to be exposed to it. More specifically, those with low political knowledge—and thus the least ammunition to counter media messages—also tend to be those least interested in politics and thus least likely to watch programs or read materials most likely to contain political information. Those most interested in politics and most likely to receive political media content also tend to be the most partisan and thus—in line with the minimal effects tradition— unlikely to be swayed by media content.

Based on Zaller’s work, one can draw two conclusions. First, the salience of a political issue or event matters greatly. Highly salient political information will reach even those least interested in politics, and since these people are susceptible to media effects, this information will likely affect public opinion, public agendas, and, possibly, approval of politicians. Second, there is a group of people in the middle of the political-interest spectrum who regularly receive political information but who are more susceptible to media effects than highly interested and knowledgeable people. It is this portion of the public who may routinely be affected by media content.

Druckman (2001) has dedicated a line of research qualifying claims about the prevalence and force of framing. In one study, he finds that the credibility of the media source matters in terms of how effective a frame is. Information presented as coming from the New York Times, for example, had much greater effects than the same information presented as coming from the National Enquirer. This speaks to the larger point that one ought not speak about media effects generally. Instead, one should think about the effects of certain types of information, presented in certain ways, by a certain source, to a certain audience, and under certain circumstances.

Another important point to consider, especially in terms of framing, is that frames seldom have monopoly status (Nelson & Kinder, 1996). If one party or candidate frames an issue in a certain way, the other party or candidate will likely try to find a different way of framing the issue, which may be equally or more compelling. This then forces people to balance these frames. This is not to say, of course, that any counterframe will eliminate a framing effect and that the numerical balance of frame mentions does not matter. All else equal, a stronger frame will beat a weaker frame, and in case of two equally strong frames, the one uttered more frequently will likely prevail.

Another factor that may temper framing effects is political conversation. This argument is akin to one put forth by Druckman and Nelson (2003). Their point of departure is a perceived shortcoming of most framing studies. Most of these studies, they suggest, expose participants to a stimulus and then have them report their opinions “without any social interaction or access to alternative sources of information” (p. 730). That is, these studies place participants in a social vacuum, prohibiting them from discussing the issue with others. As such, much of the framing literature fails to incorporate the social communication dimension of public opinion formation. The authors attempt to address this weakness in the literature by conducting a series of experiments that test the impact of different kinds of discussion on the direction, magnitude, and persistence of framing effects. The differences in discussion type—that is, the different conditions—pertain to exposure to different perspectives. They find that poststimulus discussions that include only common perspectives have no effect on elite framing, but discussions that do include different perspectives eliminate framing effects.

Miller and Krosnick (2000) investigate precisely what mechanism underlies priming effects. The conventional wisdom used to be that exposure to discussion of a certain issue would simply increase the cognitive accessibility of that issue. In other words, the issue would come to be at the top of people’s minds, thus increasing the likelihood that they would mention it when asked what issue they deemed most important to the country. The authors propose an alternative mechanism: perceived importance. In an experimental study, they find that perceived importance seems to be more important than accessibility. They argue that this is a normatively encouraging result because simple accessibility implies thoughtless application of a criterion, whereas perceived importance suggests a more thoughtful, deliberative approach to the question of what issue is most important and more relevant to politician approval judgments.

VI. New Media

Over the last few decades, the media landscape has changed dramatically. The most important change is from an old media model of broadcasting to a new media model of narrowcasting. Broadcasting refers to media appealing to the general public and is exemplified by network television, radio, and newspapers. Narrowcasting, made possible by cable, Internet, and satellite radio, is targeted to very specific audiences.

The new media have a number of important characteristics that set them apart from the old media. First, there is great variety in content, both in terms of breadth (the number of topics) and in terms of depth (the amount of information on such topics). Old media had content limitations, imposed by considerations of time and space. The new media have no such limitations. Second, the new media have much greater user control over what information people are exposed to. In the broadcast model, the media decided what information to transmit, and people had very few alternative sources of information to go to. In the new media model, people have much greater capabilities to select their own sources and to dig deeper when they feel it is necessary.

One concern that scholars have expressed about the new media era is that it may amplify already existing disparities in terms of political knowledge and participation (Prior, 2007). One advantage of the broadcast media era was that it was conducive to passive learning. Even people uninterested in politics would likely encounter and absorb political information, because there were few easily available alternative means of entertainment: Once they were watching television, they would watch whatever was on, which sometimes meant they would be exposed to politically relevant information. Thus, while not motivated to learn about politics, people would pick up political information along the way (Zukin & Snyder, 1984).

This has changed radically in the new media era, which is characterized by a diversity of media options, thus allowing people to opt out of the media outlets or programming that offer political information. Baum and Kernell (1999) point to exactly this development, in the context of the rise of cable, to explain the decreasing audiences for presidential speeches. In the broadcast days, television viewers had nowhere to turn when a presidential speech came on. In the cable era, people have and take the opportunity to change the channel to an outlet that does not broadcast the speech, thus decreasing audience size. As a consequence, according to Baum and Kernell, networks have become more reluctant to grant presidents airtime, since there is a high likelihood that viewers will avoid or move away from the networks when the speech is on.

Although motivation to seek out information was thus less important in the broadcast era, it is crucial in the new media era. Further evidence of this is provided in a study by Tewksbury (2003), who investigates people’s online behavior, with specific attention to the extent to which people seek out political information. Although high percentages of people tend to report that they follow political news, Tewksbury argues that these self-report measures are likely inflated because people like to present themselves as good citizens. His approach, then, is to actually track people’s web-surfing behavior. In short, he finds that the percentage of people accessing politically relevant content and the percentage of the total page hits represented by politically relevant content are much lower than the self-report measures suggest. Thus, it appears that when given the opportunity to opt out of consuming political information, many people take it.

In another piece, Althaus and Tewksbury (2002) investigate how the agenda-setting power of the media may have changed in the new media era. After all, the old media had a near monopoly on political information, and thus had great potential to highlight certain issues over others. In the new media era, people may follow their own issue interests or avoid politics altogether, thus lessening the agenda-setting power of the media. The authors compared issue priorities of participants who read the paper version of the New York Times with those of people who read the online version. The latter, as it turned out, were less affected by the issues that the New York Times emphasized. The online format, Althaus and Tewksbury suggest, gives people the opportunity to avoid content that journalists, editors, and politicians want to prioritize. This could be good because it is empowering and may provide incentives for politicians and the media to pay attention to issues that the public is interested in, but it could also be bad because the public may be better off focusing on issues that they are not naturally interested in but that are important nonetheless. And given the results of Tewksbury’s earlier study, it is quite likely that rather than attending to other political information, people will attend to nonpolitical content such as entertainment and sports stories.

Even among people who are politically interested, the new media may be problematic. Sunstein (2001), for example, argues that although the Internet and cable offer a great diversity of political information and perspective, politically interested people, who, as also suggested by Zaller (1992), tend to have strong ideological and partisan attachments, will likely engage in selective viewing and processing of political information. They will gravitate to outlets that are ideologically friendly and, as a consequence, will remain unaware of competing viewpoints, which, in turn, will further strengthen or even radicalize their predispositions. All in all, then, the new media may lead to polarization and will inhibit a proper functioning of the marketplace of ideas.

Although the foregoing is plausible, subsequent research has not entirely confirmed Sunstein’s (2001) ominous predictions. Although there are definitely those who behave as Sunstein would predict, most people appear to be aware of opinions on multiple sides of the debate, and most people appear to seek out information from multiple viewpoints (e.g., Iyengar, Hahn, Krosnick, and Walker, 2008). The same study provides evidence that although partisanship may be only weakly related to information searches, people are more likely to seek out information on topics that directly impinge on their lives. When one is a member of a certain issue public (Krosnick, 1990), one is more likely to be informed about that issue.

A final factor that has been routinely found to affect learning behavior, in both the old and new media eras, is general political interest. People with high levels of such interest, who tend to be well educated, are informational omnivores: They seek out and absorb information about a lot of issues and topics. Given this and the easy availability of a wealth of information in the new media era, their informational edge is likely bigger now than it was in the old media age. And since passive learning occurs to a much smaller degree in the new media era, those who are not interested are likely to absorb even less information than before, thus compounding the disparity in information (Prior, 2007).

A. New Media and Participation

Putnam (2000) attributes a significant part of the blame for an observed decline in civic engagement to the rise of television. Before television, he argues, people were more likely to spend their leisure time in civic organizations or otherwise interacting with others, often leading to connections that encouraged and facilitated civic action down the line. Television changed all this, because it offered easily accessible diversion in the home, thus removing incentives to join organizations and engage in civic projects. This, Putnam suggests, led to an erosion of social connections and all of the publicly oriented benefits thereof.

The new media era poses both increased threats and increased possibilities for political participation, and it is again important to think about this in terms of different consequences for different people. For people who are less politically interested to begin with, the new media era removes opportunities and incentives to venture out of the home, be exposed to political information, and be encouraged to participate in politics, be it by voting, protesting, or attending town meetings. Moreover, lacking such social connections, people are less likely to develop the skills and interests necessary to such political participation.

For people who do have an interest in politics, the Internet provides the opportunity to gain more information, to draw attention to an issue, to recruit other participants, to raise money, and to organize face-to-face meetings with like-minded individuals and opponents. Thus, for these people, the Internet offers yet another outlet and source for their political interest and participation. In other words, the Internet has the potential of creating a political context in which there is a minority of highly informed, highly active, and, potentially, highly partisan participants and a large majority of uninformed, uninterested, and unengaged people (Prior, 2007).

VII. Future Directions

Given the dynamic nature of the media landscape, there is plenty of opportunity and need for new research. One fruitful area concerns the consideration of politicians’ strategies in the new media era. What role do candidate websites play, both in terms of getting the message out and in terms of raising funds? How successful are campaigns’ attempts to have YouTube clips and other types of clips go viral and to what effect? Along similar lines, what effect do citizen or interest-group-created election materials have?

It is clear that the new media offer both promise and dangers to widespread public participation in politics. How do we harness this potential, and how do we avoid the dangers? Do social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace necessarily distract people from politics, or can they also inform and mobilize people and spur the type of face-to-face interaction that Putnam (2000) so values?

Finally, legend has it that people who viewed the first presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon on television believed JFK had won, while those who listened to it on the radio believed Nixon had the edge. Could similar media effects be at work nowadays, benefiting candidates who are particularly new media savvy? Similarly, does the rise of high-definition television have implications for which candidates may be successful?

See also:

Bibliography:

  1. Althaus, S. L., & Tewksbury, D. (2002). Agenda setting and the “new” news: Patterns of issue importance among readers of the paper and online versions of the New York Times. Communication Research, 29, 180-207.
  2. Ansolabehere, S., & Iyengar, S. (1996). Going negative: How political advertisements shrink and polarize the electorate. New York: Free Press.
  3. Bagdikian, B. (1997). The media monopoly (5th ed.). Boston: Beacon Press.
  4. Baum, M., & Kernell, S. (1999). Has cable ended the golden age of presidential television? American Political Science Review, 93, 99-114.
  5. Cohen, B. (1963). The press and foreign policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  6. Dalton, R. J., Beck, P. A., & Huckfeldt, R. (1998). Partisan cues and the media: Information flows in the 1992 presidential election. American Political Science Review, 92, 111-126.
  7. Dautrich, K., & Deneen, J. N. (1996). Media bias: What journalists and the public say about it. Public Perspective, 7, 7-19.
  8. Druckman, J. N. (2001). On the limits of framing effects: Who can frame? Journal of Politics, 63, 1041-1066.
  9. Druckman, J. N., & Nelson, K. R. (2003). Framing and deliberation: How citizens’ conversations limit elite influence. American Journal of Political Science, 47, 729-745.
  10. Erikson, R. S., & Tedin, K. L. (2007). American public opinion: Its origins, content, and impact. New York: Pearson Longman.
  11. Finkel, S. E., & Geer, J. G. (1998). A spot check: Casting doubt on the demobilizing effect of attack advertising. American Journal of Political Science, 42, 573-595.
  12. Franz, M. M., Freedman, P., Goldstein, K., & Ridout, T. N. (2007). Campaign advertising and American democracy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  13. Freedman, P., & Goldstein, K. (1999). Measuring media expo sure and the effects of negative campaign ads. American Journal of Political Science, 43, 1189-1208.
  14. Graber, D. A. (2003). The media and democracy: Beyond myths and stereotypes. Annual Review of Political Science, 6, 139-160.
  15. Heinderyckx, F. (1993). Television news programmes in Western Europe: A comparative study. European Journal of Communication, 8, 425-450.
  16. Iyengar, S., Hahn, K. S., Krosnick, J. A., & Walker, J. (2008). Selective exposure to campaign communication: The role of anticipated agreement and issue public member ship. Journal of Politics, 70, 186-200.
  17. Iyengar, S., & Kinder, D. R. (1987). News that matters: Television and American public opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  18. Iyengar, S., & McGrady, J. A. (2007). Media politics: A citizen’s guide. New York: W. W. Norton.
  19. Kernell, S. (1992). Going public: New strategies for presidential leadership. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press.
  20. Krosnick, J. A. (1990). Government policy and citizen passion: A study of issue publics in contemporary America. Political Behavior, 12, 59-92.
  21. Krosnick, J. A., & Kinder, D. R. (1990). Altering the foundations of support for the president through priming. American Political Science Review, 84, 497-512.
  22. Krüger, U. M. (1996). Tabloidization of information on private television. Media Perspektiven, 7, 362-375.
  23. Lau, R. R., Sigelman, L., Heldman, C., & Babbitt, P. (1999). The effects of negative political advertisements: A meta analytic assessment. American Political Science Review, 93, 851-875.
  24. Lau, R. R., Sigelman, L., & Rovner, Y. B. (2007). The effects of negative political campaigns: A meta analytic reassessment. Journal of Politics, 69, 1176-1209.
  25. Lazarsfeld, P., Berelson, B., & Gaudet, H. (1948). The people’s choice. New York: Columbia University Press.
  26. Lippmann, W. (1922). Public opinion. New York: Macmillan.
  27. Miller, J. M., & Krosnick, J. A. (2000). News media impact on the ingredients of presidential evaluations: Politically knowledgeable citizens are guided by a trusted source. American Journal of Political Science, 44, 301-315.
  28. Nelson, T. E., Clawson, R. A., & Oxley, Z. M. (1997). Media framing of civil liberties conflict and its effect on tolerance. American Political Science Review, 91, 567-583.
  29. Nelson, T. E., & Kinder, D. R. (1996). Issue frames and group centrism in American public opinion. Journal of Politics, 58, 1055-1078.
  30. Patterson, T. E. (1993). Out of order. New York: Vintage.
  31. Patterson, T. E., & Donsbach, W. (1996). News decisions: Journalists as partisan actors. Political Communication, 13, 453-468.
  32. Prior, M. (2007). Post broadcast democracy: How media choice increases inequality in political involvement and polarizes elections. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  33. Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  34. Rogers, E. M., & Dearing, J.W. (1988). Agenda setting research: Where has it been, where is it going? In J. Anderson (Ed.), Communication yearbook 11 (pp. 555-594). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  35. Sunstein, C. R. (2001). Republic.com. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  36. Tewksbury, D. (2003). What do Americans really want to know? Tracking the behavior of news readers on the Internet. Journal of Communication, 53, 694-710.
  37. Vallone, R., Ross, L., & Lepper, M. (1985). The hostile media phenomenon: Bias perception and perceptions of media bias in coverage of the Beirut massacre. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 577-588.
  38. Wattenberg, M. P., & Brians, C. L. (1999). Negative campaign advertising: Demobilizer or mobilizer? American Political Science Review, 93, 891-899.
  39. Zaller, J. R. (1992). The nature and origins of mass opinion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  40. Zaller, J. R. (1994). Elite leadership of mass opinion: New evidence from the Gulf War. In W. L. Bennet & D. L. Paletz (Eds.), Taken by storm: The media, public opinion, and U.S. foreign policy in the Gulf War (pp. 186-209). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  41. Zukin, C., & Snyder, R. (1984). Passive learning: When the media environment is the message. Public Opinion Quarterly, 48, 629-638.

Free research papers are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom research paper on political science and get your high quality paper at affordable price.

Need a Custom Research Paper?