Four potential mechanisms explore the linkages between partian media outlets and attitudinal polarization, as well as discusses how such outlets cause polarization and influence American politics more generally: partisan media outlets can have direct effects on their audience, indirect effects on the broader population, effects on the news media, and effects on political elites. Some challenges and questions remain to be answered in each area in the hopes of spurring more, and broader, work on these media institutions.
Michael J. Nelson and James L. Gibson
Even though most judges in the United States stand for election in the context of strong normative objections to the practice of electing judges, political scientists have produced a surprisingly thin theoretical framework for understanding how judicial campaigns affect voters. This paucity of research is particularly surprising given the increasingly politicized environment in which judicial elections operate. The literature on judicial campaigns is well-served to draw upon the well-trodden research about campaign effects for executive and legislative office. In some important respects, however, judicial contests differ from those for executive or legislative office. To this end, the Expectancy Theory pioneered by James L. Gibson provides an important theoretical development, emphasizing that the effects of judicial campaigns are highly conditional upon variation in voters’ willingness to tolerate different types of campaign activity. Moreover, the effects of campaigns are highly dependent on the context of both institutional design and voters’ own experiences with judicial elections.
Matthew P. Motta and Erika Franklin Fowler
Political advertising, especially negative advertising, is a prominent feature of contemporary political campaigns in the United States. Campaigns use advertising strategically to persuade citizens their candidate is preferable to the alternatives; to mobilize like-minded supporters to get out to the polls to cast a ballot for their candidate; and to acquire citizen-personal information, so they can more effectively target individuals with appropriate persuasive or mobilizing messages. Online advertising is growing, but television advertising volume has largely been on the rise, too, with 2014 being a plateau. Evidence about trends in advertising content and effects of advertising on citizens come from television advertising in particular.
Over the past decade, candidates have consistently sponsored a majority of advertising on the airwaves although their share does appear to be declining in legislative races. Interest group sponsorship of political advertising has grown, especially in Senate and presidential races, taking advantage of recent legal changes in the campaign finance landscape. Negativity is the dominant form of television advertising, constituting more than 65% and as much as 75% of all congressional general election ads (and as much as 87% of presidential ads) on air since 2006. Parties and interest group sponsors are more likely to air negative advertising by candidates, but candidates do not refrain from going negative. In fact, candidate negativity comprises roughly half of all negative ads on air. Negative ads are more likely to cite specific sources and therefore are generally considered more substantive. TV advertising is unlikely to contain partisan or ideological cues, in part, because it is targeted at swing voters.
Early studies of advertising cast doubt on their effectiveness, but more recent work suggests that advertising effects are small (mattering at the margin in the most competitive contests) and often conditional. That is, advertising effects often vary in relation to characteristics of the messages being aired, the individuals who view them, and contextual factors relating to the campaign more generally. Scholarship suggests that advertising has persuasive but short-lived influence on citizens and that advertising volume and negativity may aid mobilization efforts (although the influence of negativity may be conditioned upon ad characteristics and timing).
Technological advances in the way TV advertising is deployed is increasing campaigns ability to target citizens in a fashion similar to online advertising, which has implications for how well researchers can continue to study it. Scholars have made considerable progress in studying 21st-century advertising effects, but a number of logistical hurdles and unanswered research questions remain.
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.
Elizabeth Ann Stein
Considering incidents that make headline news internationally, given the modern information and communication technology revolution, the facility of citizens to rapidly mobilize represents a considerable threat to autocratic survival. While the speed with which popular movements emerge has increased exponentially, and the news of their existence spreads faster and farther, civil unrest has threatened the stability and survival of dictators for centuries. The paranoia and machinations of dictators depicted in films, such as the portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, while sensationalized, capture the astounding array of threats with which unelected leaders must concern themselves. On the one hand, they must worry about insider threats to their standing, such as conspiratorial plots from people within the dictator’s own circle or mutiny among government soldiers. On the other hand, dictators also must monitor threats originating from non-regime actors, such as new alliances forming among once-fragmented opposition groups or the possibility of sustained insurgency or a popular revolution. From force to finesse, autocratic leaders have developed a broad and evolving range of tactics and tools to diminish both internal and external domestic threats to their reign. The success of dictators’ endeavors to insulate their regimes from forces that might challenge them depends on accurate and reliable information, a resource that can be as valuable to the leader as would a large armory and loyal soldiers. Dictators invest significant resources (monetary as well as human capital) to try to gather useful information about their existing and potential opponents, while also trying to control and shape information emitted by the regime before it reaches the public. New information and communication technologies (ICTs), which have drawn a great deal of scholarly attention since the beginning of the 21st century—present both risks and rewards for dictators; inversely they also create new opportunities and hazards for citizens who might utilize them to mobilize people opposed to the regime. While civil unrest could encompass the full range of domestic, nonmilitary actors, there also needs to be a specific focus on various forms of mass mobilization. Historically, more dictators have been forced from office by elite-initiated overthrows via coups d’état than have fallen to revolution or fled amid street protests. Civil unrest, in its many forms, can affect autocratic survival or precipitate regime breakdown. While mass-based revolutions have been a relatively rare phenomenon to date, the actions of many 21st-century dictators indicate that they increasingly concern themselves with the threats posed by popular protests and fear its potential for triggering broader antigovernment campaigns. The ease of access to information (or the lack thereof) help explain interactions between authoritarian regimes and citizens emphasizes. The role of information in popular antigovernment mobilization has evolved and changed how dictators gather and utilize information to prevent or counter civil unrest that might jeopardize their own survival as well as that of the regime.
Going public is the preeminent governing strategy of modern presidents. When presidents go public, they attempt to influence the decisions, actions, and opinions of others through speechmaking and other public engagement. Although some scholars of the rhetorical presidency show how presidents have used speeches to govern since the dawn of American democracy, the bulk of scholarship centers on the modern presidency, as both advances in communications technologies and changes in federal policymaking institutions spurred presidents to go public.
Going public as a leadership strategy involves a variety of presidential speeches designed to reach a range of institutions and actors. Strategies include going local, speaking on national television, or saturating news coverage by sustaining attention to a top priority. The president’s target audience can be Congress, the public, news media, or bureaucracy. Presidents have had some success going public, although the ways in which presidents have been successful vary by strategy and target audience.
Going public is more than just presidential leadership of others. It is also about what incentivizes the president’s efforts to use speeches to govern in the first place. Thus, a second focus of research on going public is what explains speechmaking and the tendency of presidents to respond to those institutions and actors that they also attempt to lead. The majority of existing research centers on presidential leadership of, and responsiveness to, mass public opinion, but the emergence of a more polarized public may influence why presidents go public and may change what political scientists conclude concerning going public and presidential leadership in a more polarized political age.
Conor M. Dowling and Yanna Krupnikov
Since the 1960s there has been an increase in the amount of negative advertising in American campaigns. Although only 10% of advertisements aired in the 1960 campaign were negative, in the 2012 campaign only 14.3% of aired ads were positive. The increase in negative advertising has raised questions about the effects these types of ads may have on the electoral outcomes and the political process at large. Indeed, many voters and political actors have assumed and argued that negative advertising will have negative consequences for American politics. Although many news consumers and people interested in politics make many assumptions about the role of negativity in politics, the effect of campaign negativity on the political process is ambiguous. If there is a relationship between negativity and political outcomes, this relationship is nuanced and conditional. Although negativity may, under certain conditions, have powerful effects on political outcomes, under other conditions the effects of negativity are minimal. Moreover, while there is some research to suggest that this type of campaigning can produce negative consequences, other research suggests that negativity may—at times—be beneficial for the political process.
Jiawei Liu and Dietram A. Scheufele
There is a dichotomy in framing research that can be traced back to its multidisciplinary origins in psychology and sociology. Definitions of framing rooted in psychology are concerned with the differential presentation of the otherwise identical information and are often referred to as equivalence framing. Definitions rooted in more sociological traditions investigate how a message can be constructed with different sets of information to highlight contrasting perspectives on the same issue. The latter is typically referred to as emphasis framing. Although often subsumed under the same label, equivalence framing and emphasis framing are systematically different, both conceptually and operationally. Therefore, the two traditions need to be carefully distinguished in terms of their origins, conceptualization and operationalization of frames, underlying mechanisms, cognitive outcomes, and their relationships with other media effects theories.
Categorizing existing studies revealed two major pitfalls in framing effects literatures. First, many political communication studies to date have adopted the emphasis framing approach. However, as substantial manipulation of information introduces confounding variables making it difficult for researchers to attribute the effect on the audience to the change of frames, this approach has relatively low internal validity in experiments and can hardly be distinguished from other cognitive media effects models, such as agenda setting and priming. Thus, the bias toward emphasis framing needs to be addressed by conducting research with equivalence frames so that a more concrete causal relationship between message framing and its effects can be established. In addition, little attention has been given to visuals in framing effects research so far. Considering that people consume information in a multimedia environment online, visual frames and verbal-visual interactions need to be further investigated.
Jennifer Jerit and Jason Barabas
Issue voting concerns the extent to which citizens reward or punish elected officials for their actions or inaction on legislative issues. There are debates about styles of issue voting as well as whether it takes place in the United States, but nearly all theoretical models elevate the role of political knowledge. That is, voters must know where politicians stand on policy issues as well as their own positions. While there are a variety of ways citizens could learn about policy positions and actions, the mass media are presumed to play an important role. Yet, demonstrating the empirical linkages has been difficult in the past due to ever-present challenges with data and research designs. More research is needed to understand the various mechanisms underpinning representative democracy.
Stuart N. Soroka
Research on media gatekeeping is focused on the factors leading to a distribution of information in media content that is systematically different from the “real world.” Early gatekeeping work examined editorial decisions, and emphasized the effect that a single editor’s preferences and beliefs could have on the content new consumers receive. The literature has gradually shifted to focus on more generalizable factors, however. These include organization-level assessments of newsworthiness and commercial/economic considerations; broader system-level factors including the impact of dominant ideologies and political and social norms; and common individual-level factors, including a range of cognitive and psychological biases.
The tendency for humans to prioritize negative over positive information is one such cognitive bias—and the growing literature on the negativity bias is discussed here as one example of a set of organization-, system-, and individual-level “gates” that have a systematic impact on news content. Negativity is just one example, however. Sensationalism, violence, geographic proximity, availability of visuals, prominence of celebrities—all of these tendencies in media content can and have been examined effectively using the gatekeeping metaphor. Some of this work is reviewed here, alongside some recent trends in gatekeeping work, including the “distributional” approach to gatekeeping, and the shift in gatekeeping brought on by the “new media” environment.