Stefaan Walgrave and Peter Van Aelst
Recently, the number of studies examining whether media coverage has an effect on the political agenda has been growing strongly. Most studies found that preceding media coverage does exert an effect on the subsequent attention for issues by political actors. These effects are contingent, though, they depend on the type of issue and the type of political actor one is dealing with. Most extant work has drawn on aggregate time-series designs, and the field is as good as fully non-comparative.
To further develop our knowledge about how and why the mass media exert influence on the political agenda, three ways forward are suggested. First, we need better theory about why political actors would adopt media issues and start devoting attention to them. The core of such a theory should be the notion of the applicability of information encapsulated in the media coverage to the goals and the task at hand of the political actors. Media information has a number of features that make it very attractive for political actors to use—it is often negative, for instance. Second, we plead for a disaggregation of the level of analysis from the institutional level (e.g., parliament) or the collective actor level (e.g., party) to the individual level (e.g., members of parliament). Since individuals process media information, and since the goals and tasks of individuals that trigger the applicability mechanism are diverse, the best way to move forward is to tackle the agenda setting puzzle at the individual level. This implies surveying individual elites or, even better, implementing experimental designs to individual elite actors. Third, the field is in dire need of comparative work comparing how political actors respond to media coverage across countries or political systems.
Sally Friedman and Richard K. Scotch
Persons with disabilities make up a large and significant segment of the American public; however, Americans with disabilities have rarely been considered an important political constituency or received public (or scholarly) attention in terms of their representation among political candidates or office holders. To the extent that people with disabilities have been addressed in American political discourse, they have been associated with the receipt of public benefits and services instead of being thought of as people with the potential to actively participate. Having a physical or mental impairment has typically carried with it a considerable degree of social stigma, and to be disabled is, in the minds of many, to be incapable and incompetent, dependent on others, and even morally questionable. Thus, for much of American history, the perception of an individual as disabled has been inconsistent with the personal qualities that the voting public and political gatekeepers view as desirable for public officials.
While there have always been politicians with disabilities in government, many of them have chosen to hide or minimize the visibility and extent of their impairments. However, cultural changes in part provoked by the disability rights movement have meant that many impairments have become less discrediting, and that people with disabilities are more likely to be seen as having the potential to be contributing citizens. The number of political candidates and officeholders with disabilities appears to be increasing, and some have chosen to include or even highlight their disabling condition as they present themselves to their constituents.
Toril Aalberg and Stephen Cushion
Public service broadcasters are a central part of national news media environments in most advanced democracies. Although their market positions can vary considerably between countries, they are generally seen to enhance democratic culture, pursuing a more serious and harder news agenda compared to commercial media . . . But to what extent is this perspective supported by empirical evidence? How far can we generalize that all public service news media equally pursue a harder news agenda than commercial broadcasters? And what impact does public service broadcasting have on public knowledge? Does exposure to public service broadcasting increase citizens’ knowledge of current affairs, or are they only regularly viewed by citizens with an above average interest in politics and hard news?
The overview of the evidence provided by empirical research suggests that citizens are more likely to be exposed to hard news, and be more knowledgeable about current affairs, when they watch public service news—or rather news in media systems where public service is well funded and widely watched. The research evidence also suggests there are considerable variations between public broadcasters, just as there are between more market-driven and commercial media. An important limitation of previous research is related to the question of causality. Therefore, a main challenge for future research is to determine not only if public service broadcasting is the preferred news provider of most knowledgeable citizens, but also whether it more widely improves and increases citizens’ knowledge about public affairs.
An expansive body of research known as racial priming consistently shows that media and campaign content can make racial attitudes more important factors in Americans’ political evaluations. Despite the well-established racial priming findings, though, there are some lingering questions about this line of research that have not been adequately settled by the extant literature. Perhaps the most frequently debated issue involves the effectiveness of implicit and explicit racial appeals. Can explicit appeals that directly invoke race and/or racial stereotypes, for example, effectively activate racial attitudes in white Americans’ political opinions? Or do racial appeals have to be implicit in nature, making only coded references to race in order to prime racially conservative support for political candidates and public policies? Along with this important topic, there are additional questions raised by the existing racial priming research, which include: Who is most susceptible to racial priming? Are political attacks on other minority groups, such as Muslims and Latinos, as potent as the appeals to anti-black stereotypes and resentments upon which the racial priming research is based? How did Obama’s presidency, which both heightened the salience of race in political discourse and increased the importance of racial attitudes in Americans’ partisan preferences, affect the media’s ability to prime race-based considerations in mass political evaluations?
Real-time response measurement (RTR), sometimes also called continuous response measurement (CRM), is a computerized survey tool that continuously measures short-time perceptions while political audiences are exposed to campaign messages by using electronic input devices. Combining RTR data with information about the message content allows for tracing back viewers’ impressions to single arguments or nonverbal signals of a speaker and, therefore, showing which kinds of arguments or nonverbal signals are most persuasive. In the context of applied political communication research, RTR is used by political consultants to develop persuasive campaign messages and prepare candidates for participating in televised debates. In addition, TV networks use RTR to identify crucial moments of televised debates and sometimes even display RTR data during their live debate broadcasts.
In academic research most RTR studies deal with the persuasive effects of televised political ads and especially televised debates, sometimes including hundreds of participants rating candidates’ performances during live debate broadcasts. In order to capture features of human information processing, RTR measurement is combined with other data sources like content analysis, traditional survey questionnaires, qualitative focus group data, or psychophysiological data. Those studies answer various questions on the effects of campaign communication including which elements of verbal and nonverbal communication explain short-term perceptions of campaign messages, which predispositions influence voters’ short-term perceptions of campaign messages, and the extent to which voters’ opinions are explained by short-term perceptions versus long-term predispositions. In several such studies, RTR measurement has proven to be reliable and valid; it appears to be one of the most promising research tools for future studies on the effects of campaign communication.
Daniel C. Hallin
Typologies are a central tool of comparative analysis in the social sciences. Typologies identify common patterns in the relationships among elements of media systems and wider social systems, and serve to generate research questions about why particular patterns occur in particular systems, why particular cases may deviate from common patterns, and what the consequences of these patterns may be. They are important for specifying the context within which particular processes operate, and therefore for identifying possible system-level causes, specifying the scope of applicability of theories, and assessing the validity of measurements across systems. Typologies of media systems date to the publication of Four Theories of the Press, which proposed a typology of authoritarian, libertarian, social responsibility and Soviet Communist media systems. Hallin and Mancini’s typology of media systems in Western Europe and North America has influenced most recent work in comparative analysis of media systems. Hallin and Mancini proposed three models differentiated on the basis of four clusters of variables: the development of media markets; the degree and forms of political parallelism; journalistic professionalism; and the role of the state. Much recent research has been devoted to operationalizing these dimensions of comparison, and a number of revisions of Hallin and Mancini’s model and proposals for alternative approaches have been proposed. Researchers have also begun efforts to develop typologies including media systems outside of Western Europe and North America.
Kevin Arceneaux and Martin Johnson
Students of public opinion tend to focus on how exposure to political media, such as news coverage and political advertisements, influences the political choices that people make. However, the expansion of news and entertainment choices on television and via the Internet makes the decisions that people make about what to consume from various media outlets a political choice in its own right. While the current day hyperchoice media landscape opens new avenues of research, it also complicates how we should approach, conduct, and interpret this research. More choices means greater ability to choose media content based on one’s political preferences, exacerbating the severity of selection bias and endogeneity inherent in observational studies. Traditional randomized experiments offer compelling ways to obviate these challenges to making valid causal inferences, but at the cost of minimizing the role that agency plays in how people make media choices.
Resent research modifies the traditional experimental design for studying media effects in ways that incorporate agency over media content. These modifications require researchers to consider different trade-offs when choosing among different design features, creating both advantages and disadvantages. Nonetheless, this emerging line of research offers a fresh perspective on how people’s media choices shapes their reaction to media content and political decisions.