May 16th, 2013
Research Summary: Long before we cast our votes for the next president, the media began speculating who it could be. In the weeks and months prior to the primary election, the press focused their stories on how well a candidate would fare in the election. The media’s speculations were based on polls, fundraising, candidates’ policy platforms, and the candidate’s fit with party ideology. In the week prior to the 2008 primary election, novelty also played a big role. Barack Obama, an African American, and Hillary Clinton, a woman, received considerable press coverage – much more than other politicians like Joe Biden and John Edwards. Additionally, the Obama/Clinton focus was twice as much as all of the Republican candidates combined – all of who were white men. Interestingly, there was no difference in the amount of coverage between conservative and liberal media outlets like FOX and CNN. The trend also held across different types of media; newspaper, radio, television, cable, Internet news, and talk shows also privileged stories about Obama/Clinton over stories about Republicans. So when you turn on your news tonight, don’t be surprised if you find “unique” politicians receiving more coverage.
Citation: Belt, T. L., Just, M. R., & Crigler, A. N. (2012). The 2008 media primary: Handicapping the candidates in newspapers, on TV, cable, and the internet. International Journal of Press/Politics, 17(3), 341-369. doi:10.1177/1940161212444124
May 15th, 2013
Research Summary: As newspapers vanish with increasing frequency, many papers cut staff and reduce costs in an attempt stay afloat, but one fact remains certain: the old model of journalism is dying. The circulation of print press is dismal, profits are declining, and television news is not doing much better. But what does this bleak outlook tell us about democracy at large? For one, the increased commercialization of media, coupled with the popularity of new media technology, create a more scrutinizing, yet diffused audience. Because there are so many news outlets today, organizations like the New York Times and CBS no longer have the immense power to mobilize the large audiences they once boasted. As a result, public scrutiny is less concentrated and less effective because fewer people make up each outlet’s audience. Meanwhile, the political arena is becoming more complex, with a wider representation of interests, making it increasingly difficult for new political players to establish themselves as reliable and respectable government speakers. So with the advent of each new technology, our individual voices run a greater risk of getting lost amongst all the chatter. With that in mind, we must do more than ever before in order to ensure our opinions are heard in the saturated political media landscape.
Citation: Mancini, P. (2013). Media fragmentation, party system, and democracy. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 18(1), 43-60. doi:10.1177/1940161212458200
May 14th, 2013
Research Summary: American citizens rely heavily on the news media to inform them about political candidates. That information then determines which candidate receives their vote. By examining the news coverage of four mixed-gender elections for the offices of Senator, Governor, Vice President, and President, Meeks found startling disparities in male versus female coverage. Overall, women received more coverage than their male counterparts, but such coverage centered on female traits, issues, and called attention to the fact that they were women in the male-dominated political realm. In addition, as women ascended the political ladder, their gender labeling (terms like “woman” and “wife”) increased. For example, when Sarah Palin ran for Vice President, she received nearly 40 percent more gender labeling in her coverage than her male competitors. Meeks attributes this increase to the fact that voters tend to prefer candidates with more masculine identities to hold executive offices like the president. This study presents some startling findings, but as more and more strong women enter this traditionally masculine domain, hopefully male candidates will no longer be the norm in politics and women will no longer be viewed as novelty candidates who violate such norms.
Citation: Meeks, L. (2012). Is she “man enough”? Women candidates, executive political offices, and news coverage. Journal of Communication, 62(1), 175-193. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01621.x
May 13th, 2013
Research Summary: Does the structure of American government affect how often citizens engage in political discussions? What about one’s individual levels of education or economic status? In an effort to find answers to these very questions, Nir studied how various nations’ political structures, as well as individual differences, affect discussion among citizens. Nir found substantial variations across countries, including the distinct effect of education and economic status on discussion rates. In Spain and Italy, it was more likely that the most educated, wealthy men discussed politics, while the political discussions in Denmark occurred between citizens representing a wider educational and economic spectrum. In addition, Nir found that nations with proportional representation governments who had multiple parties and emphasized parliamentary inclusiveness encouraged civilian political discussions to a greater extent than governments with a more centralized power like the United States. Just because your government system may not stimulate political discussion as well as another nation does not mean that we should give up trying to spark political discussions among our peers. In fact, we should try even harder.
Citation: Nir, L. (2012). Cross-national differences in political discussion: Can political systems narrow deliberation gaps? Journal of Communication, 62(3), 553-570. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01648.x
May 9th, 2013
Research Summary: If someone asked you what the political norms or commonly held beliefs of the students at your university were, what would you tell them? Even if you could not give specific examples, you would most likely be able to gauge your classmates’ and/or students’ general level of political involvement. What you may not realize, however, is to what extent these political social norms affect your own political involvement. By studying over one thousand students from various universities across America, Shulman and Levine found a link between the campus-wide perceived level of political norms and an individual’s political involvement. As one rose, so did the other, and vice-versa. Going one step further, they found that individuals on college campuses who frequently engaged in political discussions were more likely to report higher political norms at their school. Therefore, if you want to increase your fellow students’ and teachers’ perception of political norms, strike up some political discussions and encourage them to do the same.
Citation: Shulman, H. & Levine, T. (2012). Exploring social norms as a group-level phenomenon: Do political participation norms exist and influence political participation on college campuses? Journal of Communication, 62(3), 532-552. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01642.x
May 8th, 2013
Research Summary: The Supreme Court lays down the law of the land, but unlike the other branches of government, the Supreme Court isn’t widely covered by the press and the justices often shy away from press coverage. Because of these issues, Sill and her research team set out to discover what characteristics influence a cases newsworthiness and it’s long lasting legal impact. The researchers discovered that while certain characteristics, such as the salience of a case, influenced both newsworthiness and legal importance, others characteristics such as who is involved in the case, case origins, or the issue area (e.g., freedom of speech and labor rights) only affected newsworthiness or legal importance, not both. While interesting cases may garner media attention, they may not always be the most important legal decisions.
Citation: Sill, K. L., Metzgar, E. T., & Rouse, S. M. (2013). Media coverage of the Supreme Court: How do journalists assess the importance of court decisions? Political Communication, 30(1), 58-80. doi: 10.1080/10584609.2012.737414
May 7th, 2013
Research Summary: Latinos are often portrayed as either a homogenous group that pulls together politically, or a heterogenous group that splits along lines of national origin. Yet these two ideas don’t necessarily mean different groups within the Latino community are pitted against each other. By comparing the number of Google searches for Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings with a state’s Latino and Puerto Rican populations, Manzano and Ura discovered a relatively higher number of searches in states with large Puerto Rican-American populations. And, though not as large, they also discovered a relatively high number of searches in states with large Latino-American populations, even if these populations were composed of individuals with different backgrounds, such as being of Mexican heritage. Latinos may not be a homogenous group, but that doesn’t mean their differences will force different identities to compete against each other.
Citation: Manzano, S., & Ura, J. D. (2013). Desperately seeking Sonia? Latino heterogeneity and geographic variation in web searches for judge Sonia Sotomayor. Political Communication, 30(1), 81-99. doi: 10.1080/10584609.2012.737415
May 6th, 2013
Research Summary: When it comes to political events, no news is definitely not good news; however, as researchers are discovering, more news isn’t necessarily better news. Elenbaas and his research team studied the interaction between the availability of political news and the audience’s motivation to learn about political events. While news media does cover important political events, in this case an EU summit, not all media sources cover these events equally. In fact, in this study approximately only one fourth of the news sources gave significant coverage to the summit. Even though news outlets may cover a political event, they aren’t necessarily providing important details. As the researchers learned, the most important predictor isn’t just availability of information, but rather, the audience’s motivation to learn about political events. It seems that in order to increase political knowledge we don’t might not need more news, but rather, more motivation.
Citation: Elenbaas, M., Boomgaarden, H. G., Schuck, A. R. T., & De Vreese, C. H. (2013). The impact of media coverage and motivation on performance-relevant information. Political Communication, 30(1), 1-16. doi: 10.1080/10584609.2012.737411
May 2nd, 2013
Research Summary: Whether concerning government, education, or the arts, we all have opinions about what we like and dislike; however, some are more vocal about their opinions than others. Why might this be the case? Research shows that you are more likely to voice your opinions if you are involved in civic activities in your community. Dalisay and colleagues studied the influence trust, neighborliness, and civic engagement had on a person’s willingness to voice opinions and found that such willingness was increased only by a person’s civic engagement. Dalisay and her collaborators point out that people who participate in civic activity are generally more involved in politics and thus, more opinionated about the issues and what needs to be done. As for the other factors, high levels of trust and neighborliness increased the level of support people thought they would receive for their opinions. Overall, this study found that a person’s perceived level of support was directly tied to his/her willingness to express opinions. So get involved in your community, strike up some friendly conversations on debatable topics, and you may just find yourself much more willing to share your opinions.
Citation: Dalisay, F., Hmielowski, J., Kushin, M., & Yamamoto, M. (2012). Social capital and the spiral of silence. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 24(3), 325-345.
May 1st, 2013
Research Summary: Urban vs. suburban life: which type of living is more conducive to political involvement? The answer depends on how involved you want to be. Research shows that while city life spurs more political involvement overall, suburban life is not entirely devoid of it. By studying the effect a person’s neighborhood has on his/her political involvement, Hopkins and Williamson found that many factors play a role in determining the likelihood that a neighborhood’s citizens will attend rallies or political meetings. In traditional urban neighborhoods where people walk, bike, or take public transportation, political involvement is higher. Yet, the suburbs are politically advantageous in their own right. Hopkins found that smaller, less-populated suburban neighborhoods also tend to spur some participation, mostly at public meetings. Hopkins also found that the more people commuting alone from the neighborhood, in addition to living in a recently built neighborhood, decreased political involvement. So the next time you move, consider the level of civic involvement you desire before making the choice between the city and the ‘burbs.
Citation: Hopkins, D., & Williamson, T. (2012). Inactive by design? Neighborhood design and political participation. Political Behavior 34(1), 79-101. doi:10.1007/111090109149