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Mass Medias Affect on Voting Trends

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Running Head: Mass Media in Elections

Mass Media’s Affect on Voting Trends
Arthur Gibford
California State University California

In today’s world, the news media reaches and affects every person in the United States. The question now is does mass media such as newspapers, television, and the internet affect the voting trends of the voters? The ownership of the media (Djankov, Nenova, McLiesh, & Shleifer, 2003), targeting specific demographics (Clinton & Lapinski, 2004), the implications of the internet (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2003) and how candidates use media (Aarts & Semetko, 2003) are all important aspects in determining whether a potential bias exists (Eveland & Shah, 2003) on the part of the news media. It is hypothesized that when the mass media displays certain biases leaning towards one party over the other, the populace tends to vote in the direction of the media. The following five scholarly literature reviews will attempt to demonstrate and support the hypothesis. According to Eveland and Shah (Eveland & Shah, 2003, p. 101)there is “a large percentage of the public (that) believes that the news media are biased, and the majority of these individuals consider the direction of bias to be against their own viewpoint”. This drives the question this paper attempts to answer. This article looks at media’s credibility and integrity in the eyes of individual people. The author’s give several hypothesis to provide multiple angles at which to look at the issue of the perceived hostile media bias’s. Aarts and Semetko offer a different look on media and voter trends. They research how on one side, media uses “diminishing knowledge and involvement and contributes to political cynicism and declining turnout. On the other hand, does media contribute to learning, political involvement, trust, efficacy, and mobilization” (Aarts & Semetko, 2003, p. 759). The though being that media affects different people in different ways, in some; it encourages them to hate the political system and avoid it. Other citizens take what they see and hear and take a proactive stance on politics (Aarts & Semetko, 2003), going out to help campaigns and really put their trust in political involvement changing policy. The biggest research jobs require extra people, so it’s no surprise it took four men and women to put together a comprehensive article about how the ownership of the news media affects the country. The article examines two different theories of government ownership (Djankov, Nenova, McLiesh, & Shleifer, 2003)one is the public interest theory, followed by the public choice theory, both have varying results on political and economic standings. This is invaluable because it helps show how important it is to keep an un-biased news media, and shows how disastrous it could possibly be. How does the internet work? And how can the implications of the internet affect political participation, a major aspect of this paper. Research in today’s world relies heavily on the internet to reach people. This article covers research in the five major domains, inequality, community and social capital, political participation, organizations and cultural diversity (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2003). It also shows how quickly the internet has been picking up steam, jumping over 2000% from 1995 when only 16 million people used it, to almost 360 million by the middle of the twentieth century (NUA2000a). Lastly, using an experiment with over ten thousand participants, Clinton and Lapinski evaluate the relationship between negative political advertising and voter turnout. Looking at both long and short term affects found little evidence that the information contained in the treatment groups’ advertisements is sufficient to systematically alter the turnout (Clinton & Lapinski, 2004). Most people feel that a media bias exists, but ironically, it is members of both party’s feeling the other one is receiving more unbiased coverage. Democrats are constantly complaining about political pundits like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh asking why people even listen to their crazy conspiracy theories they shout out every chance they get. Even so, Republicans argue that not enough attention is given to their liberal counterparts on issues they feel would cast the candidate in a negative light. To address this issue, four presidential elections were surveyed 1984, 1988, 1992 and in 1996 (Shah, Watts, Domke, Fan, & Fibison, 1999). The findings showed that incumbents actually received the greatest amount of media coverage, regardless of their political affiliation. This said they, the incumbents, received more negative publicity then their opponents. They used data collected in the early 1999’s by “Life Style Study” to try to prove the hypothesis that there is a “greater perceived hostile bias among Republicans who have high levels of discussions with like minded individuals than among Democrats who have high levels of discussions with like minded individuals. (Eveland & Shah, 2003)”
Their results are clearly displayed in Figure 1 below, were it can be clearly seen that the higher the amount of discussion amongst like minded Republicans the greater they felt a bias against them.
Figure 1. Influence of Republican identification x “safe” discussion interaction on perceived news bias. (Eveland & Shah, 2003, p. 112)

This is greatly different from the Democrats who seem to feel the same, lower, amount of bias on all levels of discussion. This evidence seems to show that instead of the actual media, individuals based their opinions based more on the people in their social networks (Eveland & Shah, 2003).
Clearly there is a perceived bias, but what could be causing this? One possible solution is offered by Aarts and Semetko who found that from 1960 to 1992 the trend of media has switched from focusing on the issues to a “more negative, more interpretative rather than descriptive, and more game oriented then policy oriented (Aarts & Semetko, 2003)”. They were able to find that people who watched commercial TV actually went to the polling places less each November then those who watched public TV, like CSPAN. While they did not research the results of which party those polled were voting for, it is apparently that those who find more interest in the pure news, are more politically active. This goes to show that the people who are more educated on the actual issues, not just the commercialized election vote more.
It does show however, that the more people focus on the negative aspects of elections, the mud-slinging for instance, the less they feel inspired to participate in the political process. The focus is changing from issues, into negative attention, and this is purely a result of the mass media. The amount of, and value they put on this type of coverage affects not only elections, but the way people perceive biases. Some networks, like Fox seem to only air negative stories directed at the more liberal candidates with no stories about poor Republican performance for example.
This perfectly leads into the way the voters may not just perceive a bias, but even shy away from voting. The reasons why voter turnout is dropping off can be attributed to how campaigns have changed to become larger and more expensive, and increasingly focusing on the negative aspects of their opponents, then on their personal positions on many of the major issues. The research shows that the more negative advertisements that air, the greater the feeling of apathy increases, which drops voter turnout even lower (Clinton & Lapinski, 2004).
The authors instead focus on the “x-factor” or the independent voters. Clearly a liberal or conservative will vote for their party regardless of how the campaign is run. It is instead the independent vote that wins and losses elections and how mass media bias’s and negativity influences them. When they are tuning in to their televisions after a long day at work, and are hit with stories about politicians being caught in affairs and guilty of other scandals further discourages them. The fact that major news networks seem to focus on this, and air multiple stories all “attacking” certain candidates, the independent viewers just zone out and shy away from the polls. In a poll of CSUN Students surveyed in front of the Sierra Center I found the following statistics relating to media bias and its affect on voter turnout: Does a Media Bias Exist? | Yes, I believe that the mass media is biased | No, there is no bias in the mass media | Number of People | 47 | 13 |
(Students, 2010)
Also, when researching to back up the facts that Clinton and Lapinski gathered regarding the apathy of voters as the mass media reports on more and more negative stories:

Do you feel more inclined to participate in elections… | …When there are large amount of negative advertising? | …When you only watch “real” news like CSPAN? | Number of People For | 27 | 49 | Number of People Against | 33 | 11 |
(Students, 2010)
Now these results are based only on the two questions with no weight being given to political affiliations those polled lean towards. It does also show how the internet has affected the younger demographic and how it perceives news media. Obviously, college students today use the internet more than ever before, and as a result they are more influenced by what they see their then previous generations (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2003).
Now clearly many of the Mass Medias biases stem from the political views of their owners. In a research article that examines not just America, but 96 other countries, we can see how ownership of the media can affect how citizens view their government (Djankov, Nenova, McLiesh, & Shleifer, 2003).
In countries were the government owns the majority of the media outlets like television, internet and newspapers, there is a complete and total bias. The restriction on a freedom of speech, similar to that found in China, portray the government in a perfect light. While this is very effective at maintaining complete control over the populace, it does not lead to reform that is viewed as “progressive” by many western countries (Djankov, Nenova, McLiesh, & Shleifer, 2003). When media goes out and is controlled by private citizens and corporations, as is prevalent in America, the freedom of speech is the law of the land. They found that in more advanced countries, Internet is actually the greatest form of political media (Djankov, Nenova, McLiesh, & Shleifer, 2003). The amount of bloggers and pundits shouting out their dislike and disdain for the opposite party influences web surfers every day. These definitely have influences that reach into November elections, and are almost all strongly biased.
The results of this paper on the effect of media biases on voter decisions have proved very interesting. The majority of people, but especially the conservatives, believe there is a strong bias by the mass media. The ownership of the media outlets directly affects the bias that network or website will have on the political views it holds. All this taken into account and we find that statistically, most people who strongly associate themselves with a certain party will tend to vote that way regardless of media’s biases or the slant they put on their broadcasts.
In the end, media bias tends to send voters away from the polls more than encouraging them to go out and vote. This apathetic attitude stems from the lack of genuine, unbiased media and shows viewers disdain for the increasing amount of negative stories. As much as Americans love juicy gossip, they really want to see the platforms their candidates are running on and most do not perceive a bias. The hypothesis that when the mass media displays certain biases leaning towards one party over the other, the populace tends to vote in the direction of the media, is disproven. There is not a definitive bias found by this research and voters tend to shy away from voting when they see a bias. It would be logical that mass media should in fact focus purely on the facts rather than slanting their news to increase and sway voter turnout and election results.

Reference:
Aarts, K., & Semetko, H. A. (2003). The Divided Electorate: Media Use and Political Involvments. The Journal of Politics , 65 (3), 759-784. Research examining media effects on political attitudes has put forth broadly conflicting explanations: media use diminishes knowledge and involvement and contributes to political cynicism and declining turnout; media use contributes to learning, political involvement, trust, efficacy, and mobilization. We address these explanations with detailed measures for the Netherlands in 1998. A dual effects hypothesis is supported: regularly watching television news on the public service channels has positive effects on cognition, efficacy, and turnout, whereas regularly opting for commercial television news has negative effects. Viewing behavior thus separates the more knowledgeable, the efficacious, and the politically involved from those who are not, revealing what might be described as a "virtuous circle" for some and a "spiral of cynicism" for others.
Clinton, J., & Lapinski, J. (2004). "Targeted" Advertising and Voter Turnout: An Experimental Study of the 2000 Presidential Election. The Journal of Politics , 66 (1), 69-96. Scholars disagree whether negative advertising demobilizes or stimulates the electorate. We use an experiment with over 10,200 eligible voters to evaluate the two leading hypotheses of negative political advertising. We extend the analysis to examine whether advertising differentially impacts the turnout of voter subpopulations depending on the advertisement's message. In the short term, we find no evidence that exposure to negative advertisements decreases turnout and little that suggests it increases turnout. Any effect appears to depend upon the message of the advertisement and the characteristics of the viewer. In the long term, we find little evidence that the information contained in the treatment groups' advertisements is sufficient to systematically alter turnout.
DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Neuman, W. R., & Robinson, J. P. (2003). Social Implications of the Internet. Annual Review of Sociology , 27, 341-381. The Internet is a critically important research site for sociologists testing theories of technology diffusion and media effects, particularly because it is a medium uniquely capable of integrating modes of communication and forms of content. Current research tends to focus on the Internet's implications in five domains: 1) inequality (the "digital divide"); 2) community and social capital; 3) political participation; 4) organizations and other economic institutions; and 5) cultural participation and cultural diversity. A recurrent theme across domains is that the Internet tends to complement rather than displace existing media and patterns of behavior. Thus in each domain, utopian claims and dystopic warnings based on extrapolations from technical possibilities have given way to more nuanced and circumscribed understandings of how Internet use adapts to existing patterns, permits certain innovations, and reinforces particular kinds of change. Moreover, in each domain the ultimate social implications of this new technology depend on economic, legal, and policy decisions that are shaping the Internet as it becomes institutionalized. Sociologists need to study the Internet more actively and, particularly, to synthesize research findings on individual user behavior with macroscopic analyses of institutional and political-economic factors that constrain that behavior.
Djankov, S., Nenova, T., McLiesh, C., & Shleifer, A. (2003). Who Owns the Media? Journal of Law and Economics , 46 (2), 633-659. We examine the patterns of media ownership in 97 countries around the world. We find that almost universally the largest media firms are owned by the government or by private families. Government ownership is more pervasive in broadcasting than in the printed media. We then examine two theories of government ownership of the media: the public interest (Pigouvian) theory, according to which government ownership cures market failures, and the public choice theory, according to which government ownership undermines political and economic freedom. The data support the second theory.
Eveland, W. P., & Shah, D. V. (2003). The Impact of Individual and Interpersonal Factors on Perceived News Media Bias. Political Psychology , 24 (1), 101-117. A large percentage of the public believes that the news media are biased, and the majority of these individuals consider the direction of bias to be against their own viewpoints. Past research has examined how individual factors such as strength of partisanship or extent of political involvement heighten bias perceptions, but little attention has been paid to interpersonal factors such as the ideological similarity or dissimilarity of personal communication networks. Results of a national survey show that perceptions of media bias were unrelated to the overall amount of discussion but were positively related to conversations with ideologically like-minded individuals. Moreover, the impact of conversations with similar others was stronger among Republicans than among Democrats, a finding consistent with recent work on news self-coverage of media bias claims.
NUA2000a. (n.d.). How many online? Retrieved from NUA Internet Surveys: http://www.nua.ie/surverys/how_many_online/world.html. A detailed look at the rise in internet users into the mid 2000's.
Shah, D., Watts, M., Domke, D., Fan, D., & Fibison, M. (1999). News coverage, economic cues and the public's presidential preferences. Journal of Politics , 61, 914-943.
Students, C. (2010, April 26). Percieved Mass Media Bias. (A. Gibford, Interviewer. A poll of local CSUN Students on their views regarding mass medias affects on voter decisions.

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