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Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics

Political Media & Their Consequences

The American media environment has experienced massive changes over the past 20 years. ISCAP studies explore the consequences of a variety of these shifts for mass opinion. 

Related Studies

Diana C. Mutz. 2018. Status Threat, Not Economic Hardship, Explains the 2016 Presidential Vote. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 115

This  study  evaluates  evidence  pertaining  to  popular  narratives  explaining  the  American  public’s  support  for  Donald  J.  Trump  in  the  2016  presidential  election.  First,  using  unique  representative  probability  samples  of  the  American  public,  tracking  the  same  individuals  from  2012  to  2016,  I  examine  the  “left  behind”  thesis  (that  is,  the  theory  that  those  who  lost  jobs  or  experienced  stagnant  wages  due  to  the  loss  of  manufacturing  jobs  punished  the  incumbent  party  for  their  economic  misfortunes).  Second,  I  consider  the  possibility  that  status  threat  felt  by  the  dwindling  proportion  of  traditionally  high-status  Americans  (i.e.  whites,  Christians,  and  men)  as  well  as  by  those  who  perceive  America’s  global  dominance  as  threatened  combined  to  increase  support  for  the  candidate  who  emphasized  reestablishing  status  hierarchies  of  the  past.  Results  do  not  support  an  interpretation  of  the  election  based  on  pocketbook  economic  concerns.  Instead,  the  shorter  relative  distance  of  people’s  own  views  from  the  Republican  candidate  on  trade  and  China  corresponded  to  greater  mass  support  for  Trump  in  2016  relative  to  Mitt  Romney  in  2012.  Candidate  preferences  in  2016  reflected  increasing  anxiety  among  high-status  groups  rather  than  complaints  about  past  treatment  among  low-status  groups.  Both  growing  domestic  racial  diversity  and  globalization  contributed  to  a  sense  that  white  Americans  are  under  siege  by  these  engines  of  change.

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Andrew Daniller, Diana C. Mutz. 2017. Measuring Trust in the Press in a Changing Media Environment.  Communication Methods And Measures. 11

The only long term trend data on trust in the American press comes from the General Social Survey (GSS). The erosion of trust in the press as measured by the GSS indicator is indisputable, but its implications for the functioning of American democracy depend on what, precisely, is being measured. In this study we use an experimental design embedded in a representative national probability sample to shed light on what people are thinking of when they say they trust or distrust the American press. Are they thinking about the sources they themselves use for news? The sources that are most popular with the population at large? An average of all possible media sources? We find that individuals express much greater trust in the press when they are asked to consider specific news sources than when they are asked to evaluate a generic news media. Our results suggest that an accessibility bias combined with the proliferation of news sources in recent years may lead individuals to think of distrusted sources when asked to answer generic media trust questions. We therefore argue that different measurement strategies are needed to successfully address trust in the press in the current news environment. 

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Mara-Cecilia Ostfeld. 2017. Unity Versus Uniformity: Effects of Targeted Advertising on Perceptions of Group Politics

While a great deal of attention has been paid to how political media can divide and polarize politicized groups in the U.S., little is understood about its effects within those groups. In this study, I use a population based survey experiment to explore whether targeted political media are affecting two factors associated with political voice – perceptions of political homogeneity and perceptions of political power. Drawing on theories from social psychology, I outline and test a set of theoretical predictions to explore this relationship in the context of Spanish-language political ads. The results suggest that Spanish-language political ads do, in fact, increase perceptions of collective political power among Latinos, but not in a way that unequivocally promote perceptions of political homogeneity. In doing so, the findings provide some of the first evidence of a causal relationship between targeted political media and perceptions of targeted political groups.

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Dan Hopkins, Eunji Kim. 2017. Does Newspaper Coverage Influence or Reflect Public Perceptions of the Economy? Research & Politics

Citizens’ economic perceptions can shape their political and economic behavior, making the origins of those perceptions an important question. Research commonly posits that media coverage is a central source. Here, we test that prospect while considering the alternative hypothesis that media coverage instead echoes public perceptions. This paper applies a straightforward automated measure of the tone of economic coverage to 490, 039 articles from 24 national and local media outlets over more than three decades. By matching the 245, 947 survey respondents in the Survey of Consumer Attitudes and Behavior to measures of contemporaneous media coverage, we can assess the sequencing of changes in media coverage and public perceptions. Together, these data illustrate that newspaper coverage does not systematically precede public perceptions of the economy, a finding which analyses of television transcripts reinforce. Neither national nor local newspapers appear to strongly influence economic perceptions.

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Rasmus Tue Pedersen. 2016. Ratio Bias and Policy Preferences: How Equivalency Framing of Numbers Can Affect Attitudes. Political Psychology

Numbers permeate modern political communication. While current scholarship on framing effects has focused on the persuasive effects of words and arguments, this article shows that framing of numbers can also substantially affect policy preferences. Such effects are caused by ratio bias, which is a general tendency to focus on numerators and pay insufficient attention to denominators in ratios. Using a population-based survey experiment, I demonstrate how differently framed but logically equivalent representations of the exact same numerical value can have large effects on citizens’ preferences regarding salient political issues such as education and taxes. Furthermore, the effects of numerical framing are found across most groups of the population, largely regardless of their political predisposition and their general ability to understand and use numerical information. These findings have significant implications for our understanding of framing effects and the role played by numbers in public opinion formation. 

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Diana C. Mutz. In Your Face Politics: The Consequences of Incivility. 2015. Princeton. Princeton University Press.

Mara-Cecilia Ostfeld, Diana C. Mutz. 2014. Revisiting the Effects of Case Reports in the News. Political Communication. 31: 53--72

Synthesizing several theories about the likely impact of case reports in the news, we propose that the impact of featuring identified victims in a news story is contingent on the degree of similarity between the audience member and the identified victims. We execute a population-based survey experiment involving immigration policy to examine our theory. Our results suggest that featuring specific, identified victims in a news story will promote more supportive policy opinions than otherwise identical stories about unidentified victims, but only when the victim is highly similar to the audience member. Conversely, case reports featuring identified people who are dissimilar to the audience member will decrease the extent to which the story encourages victim-supportive policy attitudes. Overall, our experimental findings shed light on the conditions under which the inclusion of case reports increases versus decreases the policy relevance of news stories. Our findings also help explain previous inconsistencies in findings about the impact of case reports. Additional analyses allow us to speculate as to the reasons for the differential direction of effects. 

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Susanna Dilliplane, Seth K. Goldman, Diana C. Mutz. 2013. Televised Exposure to Politics: New Measures for a Fragmented Media Environment. American Journal of Political Science. 57: 236--248

For many research purposes, scholars need reliable and valid survey measures of the extent to which people have been exposed to various kinds of political content in mass media. Nonetheless, good measures of media exposure, and of exposure to political television in particular, have proven elusive. Increasingly fragmented audiences for political television have only made this problem more severe. To address these concerns, we propose a new way of measuring exposure to political television, and evaluate its reliability and predictive validity using three waves of nationally representative panel data collected during the 2008 presidential campaign. We find that people can reliably report the specific television programs they watch regularly, and that these measures predict change over time in knowledge of candidate issue positions, a much higher standard of predictive validity than any other measure has met to date. 

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Seth K. Goldman, Diana C. Mutz, Susanna Dilliplane. 2013. All Virtue Is Relative: A Response to Prior. Political Communication. 30: 635--653

In “The Challenge of Measuring Media Exposure: Reply to Dilliplane, Goldman, and Mutz,” Markus Prior suggests that scholars should avoid using a new method of measuring exposure to political television that we evaluated in a recent article published in the American Journal of Political Science. We respond to each of his criticisms, con- cluding that although no measurement approach is without its flaws, scholars should always use the best approach that is available at any given point in time. 

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Diana C. Mutz. 2013. Television and Uncivil Political Discourse. Ch. 6 in: Can We Talk? The Rise of Rude, Nasty, Stubborn Politics

Assessments of the tone of contemporary politics often focus on the words used by politicians, members of the media, and average citizens.  From this vantage, things cannot be worse than in the past.  Goodness, the things that were said about candidates and elected officials in the nineteenth century!  Comparison of this sort can be tricky, however, because the way messages are transmitted has changed.  Diana Mutz argues that images on television and the internet violate face-to-face norms for disagreement.  These acts draw greater attention, which means that uncivili conflicts are more likely to be diffused though the population.

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Diana C. Mutz. 2012. The Great Divide: Campaign Media in the American Mind. Daedalus. 141: 1--15

There is a huge difference between public perceptions of the power of media in elections and academic evidence of its influence. This gap stems from the fact that the public uses different forms of evi- dence than academics use to infer media power. This essay outlines the reasons for this great divide, then highlights the seriousness of its consequences for the allocation of political resources. Public beliefs in omnipotent media contribute to wasted time and money; ultimately, they undermine the legitimacy of election outcomes. 

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Seth K. Goldman, Diana C. Mutz. 2011. The Friendly Media Phenomenon: A Cross-national Analysis of Cross-Cutting Exposure. Political Communication. 28: 42-66

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Diana C. Mutz, Lilach Nir. 2010. Not Necessarily the News: Does Fictional Television Influence Real-World Policy Preferences? Mass Communication and Society . 13: 196-217

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Magdalena Wojcieszak, Diana C. Mutz. 2009. Online Groups and Political Discourse: Do Online Discussion Spaces Facilitate Exposure to Political Disagreement? Journal of Communication. 59: 40-56

To what extent do online discussion spaces expose participants to political talk and to cross-cutting political views in particular? Drawing on a representative national sample of over 1000 Americans reporting participation in chat rooms or message boards, we examine the types of online discussion spaces that create opportunities for cross-cutting political exchanges. Our findings suggest that the potential for deliberation occurs primarily in online groups where politics comes up only incidentally, but is not the central purpose of the discussion space. We discuss the implications of our findings for the contributions of the Internet to cross-cutting political discourse. 

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Diana C. Mutz, Byron Reeves. 2005. The New Videomalaise: Effects of Televised Incivility on Political Trust. American Political Science Review. 99(1): 1-15

Does incivility in political discourse have adverse effects on public regard for politics? If so, why? In this study we present a theory suggesting that when viewers are exposed to televised political disagreement,it often violates well-established face-to-face social norms for the polite expression of opposing views.As a result, incivility in public discourse affects trust in government.  Drawing on three laboratory experiments, we find that televised presentations of political differences of opinion do not, in and of themsleves, harm attitudes towards politics and politicians.  However, political trust is adversely affected by levels of incivility in these exchanges.  Our findings suggest that the format of much political television effectively promotes viewer interest, but at the expense of political trust.  

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Diana C. MutzImpersonal Influence: How Perceptions of Mass Collectives Affect Political Attitudes. 1998. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Impersonal influence is about how people are affected by their perceptions of the collective opinions or experiences of others--things such as the well-publicized results of opinion polls (in the case of others' opinions), or media's coverage of the collective experiences of others (such as the extent to which others are experiencing financial problems or are being victimized by crimes). Media content is particularly well suited to serving as a credible channel of information about large-scale collective phenomena. Coverage of the collective opinions (in the case of perceptions of social problems such as crime or unemployment) alters people's political attitudes in surprising, yet subtle ways. These kinds of effects have important implications for the quality of public opinion and the accountability of political leaders in a mass mediated democracy.

Awarded the Robert Lane Prize for the Best Book in Political Psychology by the American Political Science Association, 1999, and the 2004 Doris Graber Prize for Most Influential Book on Political Communication published in the last ten years.