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Political communication in the United States

Political communication in the United States

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Political communication in the United States

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  1. Political communication in the United States

  2. Why worry about it? • Democratic governance presumes a politically educated, knowledgeable and active public • Evidence of widespread ignorance and apathy presents a serious concern • The long-term trend is toward less rather than more knowledge and concern within the public

  3. Political knowledge Source: The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

  4. Graber’s summary: The vast majority of average citizens, contrary to theorists’ hopes, survey political news haphazardly, spending less than an hour daily on it. Moreover, they practice “selective attention.” They develop choice criteria for following some news stories and ignoring others (Atkin 1985; Chong 2000; Garramone 1985; McGuire 1984, 1999). Selectivity is often subconscious because subjects automatically process information that corresponds to their existing schemas (Bargh 1997, Potter et al. 2002). The results of a summer 2000 Pew poll show that respondents ignored 38% of the news stories about their local community because they seemed neither “important” nor “interesting”; respondents eliminated 46% of the national news stories for these reasons, along with 63% of the stories covering international news (Pew 2000c, Price & Zaller 1993). When one combines these figures with Pew survey data about highly selective attention to a broad array of major news stories, such as accounts about social security and health care reform proposals, the 1990 Bush/Gorbachev summit, or global warming reports—news stories that were ignored by 70% or more of the public—it is obvious that the appetite for important political information is hardly voracious (Pew 2000d).

  5. Political interest and behavior • Political interest and behavior in the US are also low and tied to demographics • http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/ICPSR/ • http://dx.doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR25383

  6. Political socialization • All members of a society must learn the political rules and are taught to follow them or to expect punishment (though that may be rather hit-or-miss) • The more the rules are internalized, the less the need for formal social control via violence • Note: This does not mean that all rules, etc. are in everyone’s best interest or that they fall equally on all citizens

  7. Education and political knowledge • All members of society are being influenced with regard to politics (at both the legitimacy/structural level and the issue/controversy level) throughout the lifespan • A significant part of popular education is the political socialization of children/adolescents/young adults

  8. Media and political communication • A number of media, each providing an array of political programming, sources, etc. are available • The widely-acknowledged source of most political information is ‘news,’ especially television news • Local TV news is cited most often • Local TV news contains very little meaningful political content

  9. News source Source: Pew

  10. Source: Pew

  11. Critique of news as a source of knowledge • Bias • The largest number of people believe that the news is biased in favor of a liberal viewpoint • What is the evidence? • Framing and ideology • Several scholars argue that the news is framed in a very conservative manner • Conservatism is defined differently than in popular use

  12. Source: Pew

  13. Source: Pew

  14. Source: Pew

  15. Source: Pew

  16. Source: Pew

  17. Source: Pew

  18. Sensationalism (part of the ‘sleaze culture’

  19. Relationship between sources of news and political knowledge • Evidence appears to say that dependence upon newspapers for information translates into greatest political knowledge, but effect is not strong • Some evidence of effects of talk radio • For the least informed, political advertising, political comedy are an important source

  20. News and political learning • Although it is clear that news contributes to political knowledge, the structure of news, and especially television news, is not well-suited to learning, according to Graber • Cuts too quick • Event-centered rather than trend/overall picture • Mismatch between visuals and audio • Audio expected to carry the information (talking heads)

  21. Why is the news the way it is? • Control from above • Professional ideology/beliefs • Organizational demands • Audience demands

  22. Other sources of political knowledge • Talk radio • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELRmgJw8muw • http://www.youtube.com/user/TheYoungTurks

  23. Political humor • Late-night • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvY9fyevw7g • Satire shows • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiWWAZ785yQ • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa69puS7J0Q&feature=related

  24. Political advertising • http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/

  25. Websites tied to traditional media • http://www.kentucky.com/ • Web-based blogs, etc. • http://directory.etalkinghead.com/ • http://kypolitics.kentuckyville.us/

  26. Distraction • “Amusing Ourselves to Death” • Neil Postman

  27. The ‘monitorial citizen’ • “The crux of the counterargument to the claims of deficient media and ill-informed citizens is that the ideal informed citizen type that is at the center of this debate about media and citizen performance simply does not exist and cannot exist in most advanced industrialized societies, especially in large countries” • Graber, 2004

  28. “Unlike the fully informed citizens of the prior period, monitorial citizens need not stay fully informed about political developments at all times. They only need to survey the political scene carefully enough to detect major political threats to themselves or their communities. When threats appear, monitorial citizens should consult news stories, party and interest group pronouncements, and the views of trusted individuals . . . . Reliance on information shortcuts yields acceptable results” • Graber, 2004

  29. “For example, when California voters were faced in 1987 with five complex ballot initiatives, some wrestled with the details as required by the informed citizen model to determine which ballot initiative matched their interests best. Others simply ascertained who favored and who opposed each initiative and then sided with their presumed friends. Both sets of voters managed to match their vote to their own welfare with only a slight disadvantage for the group using heuristics (Lupia 1994).”

  30. Where is it all headed?