Archive for February, 2009

Erica Leuenberger
Qingjiang Yao
March 2, 2009

Graber, Chapter 8, “Elections in the Internet Age”

This chapter focuses on the ways in which the media’s influence has control over an election and a political candidate. The chapter also, in turn, focuses on the ways in which a candidate uses new technologies to regain control over their image and gain support. The media influences aspects of elections by influencing the selection of candidate. They do this by covering a preferred candidate more and not showing a less-liked candidate as much. Through public polls, people tend to like a candidate that is covered more in the media. Journalists also have power over candidates because it is important for the candidate to look impressive in front of cameras. If the candidate is covered more, they must look and act their best to keep their supporters. Since being seen as an impressive person in the media is so important, candidates look to the media as a way to get their name out. Therefore, the candidates essentially create their campaigns for the media.
Although there are ways the candidates have control over their image, their whole political being seems to lie in the hands of the media and the reporters. It doesn’t seem very journalistic that the media manipulate the image of these candidates. Rather, they should be doing their job as a watchdog, finding out the more important issues. Not only can the media put a candidate on television and the newspaper, but the candidate can create a website, telling supporters different policies and how to donate money, giving specific information on what kind of candidate they are. This is great new technology, but the research isn’t in yet that states how much of an influence these aspects of a campaign have on the public. I believe these kinds of things have a great deal of impact on the public. The public listens and watches and sees the candidates through the media. Even when the public sees a candidate speaking and debating, it is through the television, usually edited by newspeople.


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Tiffany Lustig
Mass Media Process and Effects 19:169:001
Graber, Chapter 8
March 2, 2009

“The Internet and Television’s Impact on the Election”
A big problem with the media during election time is that they tend to make premature announcements. For instance, during the George W. Bush – Al Gore Presidential Election, the press announced that Gore had won the majority of the Electoral College votes. However, these announcements were made too early because some polling stations were still open in Florida and Bush actually ended up winning. The media tend to cover the campaigns for high level positions because they are exciting, but this in return makes them ignore more routine campaigns. The effects of the media can vary depending on the changing political scene, the type of coverage the news people choose, and the interests of the voters. A problem with understanding the media influence on elections is that investigators assume people have been exposed to all election stories in a certain news source without really knowing which stories they know about. There are three parts to the role of the media on television: the power of the journalists to influence the selection of the candidates, the requirement for candidates to televise well, and the emergence of made-for-media campaigns. Journalists are able to influence the selection of candidates as well as the key issues of the campaign. For this reason, candidates depend on the media for their success. The news people will predict the winners and losers and then concentrate on the front runners in public opinion polls. This ends up forcing other candidates out of the race prematurely. Candidates who get good coverage by the media do well in public opinion polls and good poll ratings give them more media coverage, so the two end up working off of each other. Media coverage can also be shaped to destroy a candidacy. For example, Senator Joseph Biden was forced out of the campaign by a charge that his speeches contained plagiarized quotes from previous political leaders. This got widely publicized and resulted in his being forced out. Television becomes very important during campaigns. For instance, the Kennedy-Nixon debates on T.V. helped soften the public’s impressions that Kennedy was unsuited for presidency. The candidates also have to look impressive and be able to perform well for the cameras. Good pictures that the media gets a hold of can help unfavorable attitudes towards the president. For example, a picture of President Bush hugging a fifteen year-old who lost her mom in the 9/11 attacks showed that Bush cared about his people and would protect them. In this sense, candidates concentrate on photo opportunities or talk show appearances to help gain good media coverage. An appearance on entertainment shows was once considered to be unpresidential, but is now routine for candidates. Satellite interviews have also become more popular as well as candidate-sponsored Web sites. The Web has become very popular in luring many supporters to a campaign and it serves as a rallying tool. Candidates can maximize their chance of getting coverage by planning their schedule around events that tend to attract many reporters. Candidates can also gain attention through television commercials. News about an election tends to receive only average attention; it does not dominate the news. The candidate qualifications that the media highlights have two groups: the ones that are important in judging a person’s character such as personality traits, and the ones related to the tasks of the office such as the capacity to develop and execute effective foreign and domestic policies. News people like to keep the emphasis on stories that are brief, fast-paced, and brand new breaking events. These are the stories that will receive the most attention. There are three main features that stand out in coverage of issues and events. The media devotes a lot of attention to “horse race” aspects of campaigns. Information on issues is patchy because the candidates only like to focus on issues that help their campaign. Last, there is more issue coverage than scholars have acknowledged in the past. Although journalists try to produce balanced coverage, imbalanced coverage occurs frequently. Voters end up only being able to recall very little from specific campaign information. Once they process the news, they forget most of the details. The media has one very important influence on voters and that is shaping and reinforcing predispositions and influencing the initial selection of candidates.

When I was reading this chapter and I saw the picture of President Bush hugging the 15 year old who lost her mother in the 9/11 attacks, I immediately felt sympathy. I read the section of the text about how pictures that the media captures can play a large role in making candidates look good. This picture instantly made me feel like the president cares deeply for the victims’ families. Pictures like this are very powerful and this picture was very powerful to me. It sends a strong message to the public. This picture tells you that the president cares and has sympathy for those who lost loved ones in the terror attacks.

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Stephanie Crets
Media Effects
Graber Chapter 8
Reading Reaction #9

The media plays an obviously important role during election season from the caucus to the primaries to voting day. The media can be framed in ways to glorify a candidate or completely tear he or she down. However, the politicians themselves have to be charismatic when seen on television and on the Internet. The book suggests that Lincoln’s non-photogenic face would have turned viewers off had he been around in this day and age. Although most people still get the majority of their election coverage from television, the Internet is growing increasingly popular in that aspect, especially for candidates themselves who can solicit help from people through e-mail. Media also tries to promote more issues than others, for example in the 2008 Presidential election, the media wanted Iraq, health care, and the economy, especially the mortgage crisis to be the forefront of the candidates’ discussions. It can be hard to tell what people can actually learn about the candidates through the television and Internet coverage. Attack ads, support ads, and hundreds of news stories can cloud people’s judgment. Either way, this media coverage still becomes the deciding factor when people go to vote.
The media, especially the more biased news networks played a pivotal role in this past Presidential election. I don’t think I would have survived all the regular news coverage of the republican campaign, especially once Sarah Palin was nominated as the running mate without The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to make light of the ridiculous situation. Although shows like that are based on comedy, they do sometimes shed new light on a situation. I was actually watching The Daily Show coverage of the election on November 4 and John Stewart announced Barack Obama was the President. For some reason, I was really glad that I found out from John Stewart, as opposed to some random news anchor on CNN or NBC. I feel like viewers who tune in to the Daily Show had been going through an uphill journey since Bush was elected in 2000 and Stewart’s coverage definitely influenced my opinion during this past election. I was already obviously going to vote for whoever the Democratic candidate was, but it’s nice to get the random news stories the larger networks don’t generally report, even if the point of them is comedy. That being said, I feel like these comedy shows are influential, maybe even more so on framing issues and candidates, especially since they’re mostly liberal in their coverage.

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Joseph Marshall
Reaction Paper #5

Psychology of Opinion-Holding
This week’s reading assignment talked a great deal about the idea of public opinion from both the micro and macro-level. Both play important in our media driven society and the one I want to discuss in this paper is the micro-level.
The ideal of democracy works best when people actively attend to public affairs and people put the most attention on the most deserving problems at the time. However public opinion falls short of this ideal because the opinions that people do hold sometimes seems like unconnected preferences in no logical relationship to another. Often it appears that political leaders find it very easy to manipulate political symbols so as to fool a politically gullible mass public. Most of the political involvement from the average person is a passive spectator watching from the sidelines without any control at all on what is going on around them. The main purpose of following politics is to affect policy, outcomes and staying informed. Whereas thinking about politics and making your own assessment isn’t done by many. Some for the people who do hold these political opinions, they can benefit from them. Opinions can serve as a political function, for example when people learn to agree with prevailing views. As one would expect, opinions reflect self interest, but the idea of self interest isn’t universal. People often derive opinions from values that have little if anything to do with obvious self interest (Sears and Funk 1990). While sometimes it seems that people subjectively generate opinions, those opinions usually have reasons behind them.
Just as it is misleading to describe public opinion by focusing on the typical citizen, it can be misleading to assume that a citizen’s attention level regarding one aspect of politics extends to all the others. People vary not only in their taste for public affairs but also in the aspect of public affairs that engage their interest most. Like for me, I take a lot of interest in global warming because of what I have learned about it over the past few years. But, my parents don’t feel as though the environment isn’t a problem that needs to be addressed right now because of other issues that pertain to the country. And along with having different interests in different issues, the public’s level of attention to politics is seasonal, based on the electoral cycle and based on what the media decides are the most important. The example the book uses is the idea of football. For the average fan of football, they don’t think about it all year round. However when football season comes around it can become the most important thing to that person because football is in its season.
Another issue that Erikson brings up in the book is the idea that the public becomes very interested and public knowledge goes up as well. Take an event like the attacks on September 11th. The public learned a lot about terrorism and different terrorist organizations like the famous Al-Qaeda. Since the threat of being attacked was a real possibility at the time, the public wanted to know about this because they were afraid that terrorism could hurt them so the public gained self interest in this issue.
After reading this chapter, I understand where these concepts can come from. Like the idea the politics are a cycle and certain issues are important to the public at different times. Like during political elections every issue is brought up and with good reason. People want to know where the candidates stand on all the issues. However after the election it seems that the government and the people forgot about all those issues and simply focus on one main one, where all the other ones talked about during the election don’t have any relevance in the public eye anymore.

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Shayna Courtney
Response 3

In chapter four, specifically, of American Public Opinion: Its Origins, Content, and Impact, we learn of the movement, and the trends for movement, of public opinion. How are the shared thoughts or beliefs of the masses created and engaged as one entity? How does this further guide the progress of public opinion on an issue? Exploring polls on The Washington Post’s website concerning perhaps one of the most quick-acting trackers of public opinion—the exit poll, I came across some very interesting data concerning last November’s historical election. The article posed this question upfront: just because a more Democratic group had dominated the polls, could we assume that the nation’s political views were much of the same, a leftward lean?
Obsessed with immediate, hopefully accurate and correct, testimony from an anonymous citizen leaving the booth, the exit polls offered little evidence that there had been a noticeable shift to more liberal thinking. Instead, the poll results offered up a different sort of evidence to argue change: “Overall, 39 percent of this year’s voters said they were Democrats, 32 percent Republicans, a big change from four years ago when the split was 37-37. But despite this shift in partisanship, voters were no more or less apt this time around to call themselves liberal or conservative,” wrote Jennifer Agiesta, in the article “Ideological Shift or Just Complicated?” More than a week had passed since Election Day, and despite the turnout or the rise in number of self-proclaimed Democrats, the overall results of the exit polls could not positively signify any direction in the thought of the public.
Instead of announcing a shift of American’s collective ideas, Agiesta is quick to note that while the reactions recorded in the poll, particularly among young voters, could translate into a movement of a portion of the public’s opinion; it is not truly clear why such a shift can be observed. Yes, it could be a genuinely held belief of the young voter, or it could be a sort of cause and effect result prompted by the state of the economy and society in general—an obvious point of emphasis during the season.
While voters from a wide range of demographics expressed approval of the idea that Washington should have a greater hand in affairs, Agiesta again qualifies this sentiment with the possibility that the question on the poll was simply not made exactly clear. The question also reminds the citizen that the nation is in a difficult situation, and that there should be at least some action, or at least that is what Agiesta believes the citizen might feel when answering.
Ultimately, Agiesta uses a portion of the data returned from the 2008 Exit Polls to examine a potential burgeoning of leftward thinking or liberalism. However, Agiesta goes on to juxtapose this possibility with a seemingly opposing notion that more citizens, especially young voters, are looking for a higher degree of government action. In this way, it becomes easier to see that perhaps the tracking of movement of public opinion cannot ever hope to yield outstandingly confident results.


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Nora Schmiedel
Media & Public Opinion

Reading Response: 2/26

I have always been highly interested in the accuracy of election polls. Many people try to say that they can’t be trusted, but then sites like fivethirtyeight.com and realclearpolitics.com seem to have gotten a good hold on the opinion of the public, at least when it comes to elections. Well, at least when it came to this election. Polls have played a vital part in all elections whether they can be counted as completely accurate or not. An important fact that lies in the undecided voters. Many people think that these undecided are split 50/50 and are going to go half one way and half another. This is obviously not true. A lot of things come into account with these voters, and in the end they turn out being vital to a campaign, as Erikson and Tedin point out, “..undecideds was one reason Truman beat Dewey. It is also the reason that Richard Nixon barely squeaked out a win of less that 1 percent over Hubert Humphrey in 1968.” (p. 48) These undecided voters are another reason why these polls can turn out so inaccurate. Referencing the Nixon election, we see that the race came done to 1 percent. What is interesting about this is that the polls leading up to this election showed Nixon with a 15 percent lead. The same can be said about the Reagan-Carter race. Although the polls leading up to the election showed a close race between the two candidates, Reagan in the end had a sound defeat over Carter.
It is hard to place the blame on the pollsters for this inaccuracy though. There are several factors leading to the reasons why these polls can’t always be trusted. First of all Tedin and Erikson point out that polls can be more accurate during the general election as compared to the primary. This is because even in the final weeks of the primary people are still focusing their votes, and their decision on who they really will vote for may not be made until they cast their vote on the day. But with the general election it is more likely that if you take a poll within the final weeks of the election it will be increasingly more accurate than that of the primary. The authors go on to say that this can in fact count in favor of polls. Saying that they can be an accurate snapshot of the mindset of they people at the time they are taken, though they may not directly reference any actual election results. One of the most sought after polls though is the exit poll. It is the main stream news outlets way of trying to overdue their competitors by being the first to know the results of the election. These can be both useful and detrimental. Since it is no doubt the voter will know after he has voted who he voted for they seemingly have to be accurate. However this proved detrimental in 2000 when the Gore vote in Florida was overanalyzed and he was declared a winner when he in fact was not. I thought for this reading I would turn to an old election poll from 2008 that was trying to predict the outcome of this past election. What I found was an online poll conducted by a local ABC news station broadcast. The poll used 657 “likely voters” and predicted that Obama would win 52% to 43% McCain. It seems to be one of the more accurate polls, and I think that is because it polled people beginning 10/31/2008 right up until 11/3/2008. So like the Tedin and Erikson reading said, the closer to the actual election day that you can poll the people, the better and more accurate your results.

1) http://cfc.whtm.com/external.cfm?p=politicalsprpolls

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Josh Gilbert
Yao- Reaction #5
The Essence of Public Opinion

The focus of these two reading was on Public Opinion and how it may change on the micro and macro stages. Chapter 3 discussed the individual and how opinions change quickly and sometimes they change for completely random reasons. Chapter 4 on the other hand discussed macro level patterns and how this change is aggregated and that there may not be a big swing in numbers. These reading struck home at a personal level because many of the things that they characterized a typical American as was very similar to my own life. I can not name my congressman, senator, or speaker of the house, and I like to consider myself somewhat informed on governmental issues. I clearly am a typical ignorant American who does not know much about issues in politics because, frankly, the time invested into forming legitimate opinions is almost a waste because no matter how much I know it will not change anything.
Chapter three showed how there is a broad spectrum of political intrest in America. From the extremists to the apathetic, there are many levels of distinction between the two. One point made was that people are not interested in routine politics but only become interested when atypical things occur, such as scandals and terrorists threats. It is obvious to say that when groundbreaking event are occurring people will pay attention, so I was really not sure what they were trying to get across when the went into so much detail on this issue. The part of the chapter that I found to be the most interesting was when they talked about people who are “nonattitude”. This is characterized as someone who brings error to surveys because they respond to questions randomly and have no real opinion. They can be accounted for when polls are given months apart and the responses vary greatly with no real political changes occurring. These people sometimes label themselves as democrat and republican and these two ideological terms carry some weight.
Most liberals identify themselves as democratic and vice versa with republicans, but at the base of the two parties there are no legitimate anchors. A lot of the text was devoted to showing differences between people who characterize themselves with either and the main difference between the two was big national government and strong state governments. The text broke down how personal ideologies play a large role in public opinion and how the way you were brought up is on the largest factors in party affiliation. When the book mentioned political interest I thought of my own life.
The months leading up to the election I found myself more interested in politics then I have been ever before in my life. I would watch CNN daily and try to process as much information so to be a better voter with informed decisions. I think I did my part but now as the election is behind us I find myself being less and less interested in politics. I watch CNN weekly instead of daily, and there is not as much for me to think about because all that is being discussed in the economy. I do, obviously, want the economy to improve but I do not really understand how anything they are doing will help. It is difficult to stay interested and that is a main point that the book was making.
Chapter 4 discussed how these low level actions are portrayed on the national level. A big problem when trying to make legislature off of polls is the erratic ness of the polls themselves. Opinions change quickly and the chapter provided four forums in which options are formed; social welfare, civil rights, foreign policy, and social issues. Social welfare pertains to distribution of wealth and government efforts. Civil rights refer to the quest for equality of all groups. Foreign policy is pretty self explanatory, and socials issues involve differences over lifestyle and moral values. On social issues the public is generally thought to be rather conservative. Most are against drugs, abortion, and gay rights, but I personally believe that these stances are slowly changing to a more liberal one. One of the largest effects of change is the fact that about half of the voting population is replaced every 20 years. Modernization is a large role as well because people change their viewpoints to more liberal with the advent of new technology.
The end of chapter four presented a theory called the “honeymoon effect”. This argues that in the first few months following and election the approval rating of the new president is very high. “The latest survey finds that nearly 64% of Americans approve of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president, while only 17% disapprove. http://people-press.org/”. This illustrates that even though 64% of Americans did not vote for Obama, there is that many people who approve of the way he is handling his business. This will be an interesting topic to revisit in a few months after his first bills pass and there are some people who start to build up resentment towards him.

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