Agenda setting in electoral campaigns. How do people determine what issues, candidate qualities, etc. are important in elections?. By looking to their personal experiences? By asking others? By following the news? By following traditional values and knowledge?
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How do people determine what issues, candidate qualities, etc. are important in elections? • By looking to their personal experiences? • By asking others? • By following the news? • By following traditional values and knowledge? • By engaging in personal research? • There is a significant controversy over how the agenda is set
Early discussion • Early study of the impact of the press on the public tended to see the ‘media’ as the source of public perceptions in the political arena • Fits with much of democratic theory
Lippmann • In the early 1900s, Walter Lippmann noted a difference between “the world outside and the pictures in our heads” • He compared what he knew about World War I and the coverage it received in the New York Times • Large discrepancies • Lippmann said that because people could not experience much of the world firsthand, they were dependent upon the news
Lippmann argued that the news was not a mirror of reality but a “restless searchlight” bringing one, then another object into view, and then moving on before the public could make sense of what had be identified • People tended to ‘stereotype’ things in order to deal with the complexity in the world
The upshot, according to Lippmann, was that for most topics at a distance from people, the public ended up with a distorted, stereotypical understanding • Foreign policy
Cohen • In a study of the relationship between journalists and foreign policy officials, Bernard Cohen (1963) made the offhand comment that: • “The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”
McCombs and Shaw (1972) • The first test of the ‘agenda setting hypothesis’ using traditional empirical research methods • McCombs and Shaw compared the issue agenda found in the top nine news sources used by voters in Chapel Hill, NC during the 1968 election campaign (Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace) to the agenda identified by 100 undecided voters. • "The correlation between the major item emphasis on the main campaign issues carried by the media and voter's independent judgments of what were important issues was +.967."
McCombs and Shaw (1972) • Most campaign coverage analyzed campaign strategy and ‘horse race’ • "While the three presidential candidates placed widely different emphasis upon different issues, the judgments of the voters seem to reflect the composite of the mass media coverage." • "News media do have a point of view, sometimes extreme biases. However, the high correlations suggest consensus on news values, especially on major news items.“ • "The media appear to have exerted a considerable impact on voter's judgments of what they considered the major issues of the campaign"
Shaw and McCombs (1977) • Charlotte, North Carolina 1972 (Ford-Carter) election expanded the sample to include the entire voting population. • Message attributes: the front page of the newspaper had the most impact • The frequency of exposure to a given message is important. • Greater impact on heavy media users • Effect is cumulative • effect of a particular message is tempered by the messages which the viewer has previously been exposed to. • Period of influence of messages ranges from three to four months.
Longitudinal panel showed a .51 correlation from the newspaper agenda to the later public agenda, while only a .19 correlation from the public agenda to the later newspaper agenda. • The Charlotte study also showed CBS and NBC to have greater short-term effect on voters than the Charlotte Observer newspaper (McCombs, 1977). • Media messages can make salient both objects (topics or issues) and attributes of those objects.
Receiver characteristics: • need for orientation • voting decision state (decided vs. undecided)
McCombs noted a significant correlation of +0.63 between the national television agenda and the subsequent voter agenda, The newspaper agenda remained stable over time. The television agenda changed to become like the newspaper agenda. Voters seemed to follow the television agenda.
More "obtrusive" topics showed less impact of the media agenda • Personally remote issues, such as foreign affairs, the environment, and energy appeared to decline in influence as the election neared, whereas the more personal issues such as money matters held a steady influence.
Weaver, Graber, McCombs and Eyal (1981) • A nine-wave longitudinal panel study of the 1976 election campaign. The sites were Indianapolis, Indiana; Evanston, Illinois; and Lebanon, New Hampshire. • Studied how voters learned about issues, the impact of message content, and demographic and lifestyle variables. • Confirmed importance of voter need for orientation and issue "obtrusiveness" • Agenda- setting was greatest early in the campaign. The influence of the media receded thereafter.
The salience of the candidate attributes in news messages transferred to the public • Panelists were able to rate the two presidential candidates, Ford and Carter, along a wide range of image attributes: man of principles, inspires confidence, compassionate, forthright, versatile, and so forth.
Need for orientation indicated • In addition, "the voters least likely to be influenced by media issue agenda- setting are those with more education, higher status jobs, more prior political knowledge, and more interest in the campaign. • The media did seem to have role in boosting name recognition early in the campaign.
McLeod, Becker and Byrnes (1974) • Studied the 1972 election in Madison, Wisconsin • Two Madison newspapers exhibited different agendas for the campaign. The more liberal of the two newspapers gave the "honesty in government" issue six times the attention provided by the conservative paper. The differential agendas of the two newspapers were reflected in the relative importance which the two groups of readers placed on the issues.
Benton and Frazier (1976) • Three levels of people's information-holding: • 1) awareness of general issues; • 2) awareness of proposed solutions; and • 3) specific knowledge about proposals. • A content analysis of three media and a survey • Found high intercorrelations among media regarding economic content at level 2, agenda-setting at both levels 2 and 3 • newspapers primarily set the agenda for all media users • Television did not set people's agenda at levels 2 and 3
The basic media agenda-setting hypothesis • Media allocate space/time and emphasis differentially to public problems • Total space or time and placement on the front page or at the beginning of the newscast • These choices do not reflect ‘reality’ but a set of editorial decisions based on a number of influences • Readers/audience members pick up these emphases and interpret them as indicators of the real importance of the issues discussed
Agenda-setting study • The agenda setting hypothesis has generated a massive literature • Over 400 (more by now) studies have been identified that tested some form of the hypothesis • One of the most replicated and enduring findings in media research • The hypothesis has been expanded beyond campaigns, and has taken public relations, advertising, talk radio, the State of the Union Address, and many other communications into account • Influence of a wide range of media has been identified
Agenda-setting study • Intermedia agenda setting has been identified • The prestige media influence others • Crouse (Boys on the Bus) • Rise of the internet, cable news, etc. has altered the media structure and the role of traditional news • Additional influences on the media agenda have been studied • Original studies took the media agenda as a given • Policy agendas are now a major concern, especially in political science • Public agenda influence on policy agendas was pretty much assumed at the outset
A model of the agenda setting process Source: McQuail & Windahl (1993)
Two major questions concerning campaign agenda setting • How is the media agenda set? • What is the effect of the media agenda on the election?
Agenda setting in electoral campaigns • What is an electoral campaign supposed to be about? • Issues • Which issues? • Character • What characteristics matter? • How is character determined?
To what extent does the media agenda reflect real-world conditions? • Scholars have pointed out that many important concerns are not emphasized in the media agenda and many rather unimportant ones are. • AIDS • Economy/bailouts • Environment • Drugs • Abortion
However, • That does not mean that current events have no bearing on the media agenda. The relationship between actual events and media coverage appears to be partial and fluid. • Some events, topics appear to generate coverage regardless of candidate or reporter intent • Others are manufactured, discovered, etc.
Media presentation • The media present a partial, biased view of the world • Choices on what to cover and how to cover it represent a number of influences other than ‘reality’ impinging upon the journalists • Drama • Powerful sources • Journalists’ own interests/biases • Many more
Agenda setting in electoral campaigns • Who determines what the agenda will be? • The media? • The candidates? • The public? • Special interest groups?
Agenda setting in electoral campaigns • Each of the players in electoral campaigns has an interest in influencing the agenda • Whatever is off the agenda cannot significantly impact the election • Whatever is off the agenda will likely receive limited government attention • Those issues/topics chosen to be on the agenda advantage certain candidates while disadvantaging others
How is the media agenda set? • Sources of influence: • Candidates seek electoral advantage • Public statements • State of the Union address • Release of white papers/policy outlines • Acceptance speeches • Campaign ads • Scoops, exclusives, etc. • Dissemination via Internet in various ways • Debates • Public policy actions of incumbents
How is the media agenda set? • Sources of influence: • The media themselves want to be successful economically as well as in carrying out their democratic role • Recognition of real-world issues • Interest in sensational topics • Perceived audience interest (ratings) • Bandwagon effects • Intermedia influences • The general public wants important and/or emotional issues addressed • Demonstration of interest to media • Public discussion/debate • Internet traffic
How is the media agenda set? • Special interest groups want their issues addressed (or hidden) • PACs • Financial support to those who espouse certain views, interests • 527 groups • Political advertising • Other communications (Internet) • Churches • Sermons, etc.
Influence on the public agenda • Generates discussion • Increases perceived importance of certain issues, candidate traits while decreasing the perceived importance of others • Relative importance of positions/traits affects candidate evaluation • Expectations relating to elected officials also are likely to be influenced
What other influences on media agenda are there? • Corporate influence • Think tanks • Journalists themselves • Audience tastes/curiosity • Interest/pressure groups
Electoral impact of agenda setting • Becker and McLeod (1976) argued that "the acceptance of these issues as the important one facing the country results in differential voting as well as distinctive communication behaviors.
Influence on the policy agenda • Candidates elected based on the emphasis given particular issues are expected to deliver on those issues • Evaluation of performance is tied to issue emphasis as well as stance • Post-election evaluations signal all officials of public concerns • Even those who were not up for election read the tea leaves
Influence on the policy agenda • Critique: even though appears that bills aimed at concerns high on the public agenda increase, the actual change in public policy is quite limited or non-existent • Bill action, public speechmaking ‘just for show’ while real interests take over and dominate policy formation
Influence on the policy agenda • Research generates mixed results
Gandy (1982) • The more indirect, undercover efforts by corporate and bureaucratic public relations specialists provide more effective means of influencing policy. • Policy actors with sufficient resources to subsidize the information-gathering activities of other participants in the process are seen to influence the outcome of policy debates to their advantage.
Cook et al. (1983) • Quasi-experimental design "built around a single media event” • The results suggested that the media influenced views about issue importance among the general public and government policy makers • Policy change likely resulted from collaboration between journalists and government staff members rather than public opinion
Protess, Leff, Brooks and Gordon (1985) • Used a quasi-experimental design to assess the impact of a newspaper investigative series about rape on a randomly selected group of Chicagoans and a purposive sample of policy makers. . . . “the series had a minimal impact on public opinion and policy making, but affected profoundly the subsequent newspaper coverage of rape."