Does the Media Influence our Political Views? Other Decisions?

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OF COURSE IT DOES. 

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This political season has made me hate watching live TV and getting the mail (only to find junk mail that smears the other party). My wife and I were sitting on the couch watching TV and I decided to mute every commercial that came on that was political; whether it was for Obama, Romney, or local politicians. It was the quietest 2 ½ minutes I've ever experienced, I think the only commercial we actually listened to was a promotion for our local news station... promoting the next debate of course. 

I think that of all the different ways that the media can have an impact on our thoughts and behaviors (commercials, radio, mailings, etc.), the political debates are probably the most emotionally charged events. I found myself enjoying the first debate because I was interested in what both candidates had to say with the other present. Then when the second debate came around, I struggled keeping my emotions in because a number of my Facebook and Twitter friends were posting ridiculous statements during the debate. All it took was for President Obama to say that his investment portfolio wouldn't take as long to look at compared to Mitt Romney's, and my Republican Facebook friends became outraged, and my Democrat Facebook friends were rejoicing! One sentence directly changed their behavior.

With regards to politics, I think there are some people who will never change their mind no matter how many poor ads the media throws at them. I also have a hard time understanding the "undecided voter" perspective, we've been with President Obama for four years, and Mitt Romney since the primary; I don't see how someone cannot make a decision given all this time to think about it. While I don't want to get too off topic, I think that these undecided voters are people who might actually be swayed by controversial TV ads or junk mailers. These undecided voters are most likely easily swayed from both the media's agenda and the policy agenda. The media agenda is when the media promotes issues that they feel are important and choose to publicize the most, the policy agenda deals with issues that the government thinks is important (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012). There seems to be an obvious disconnect between these two types of agendas, and there is an even greater disconnect between these agendas and the public agenda. The public agenda is the public's view on important issues (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012).

I believe that there are other forces playing here as well that influence our thoughts. Information that we (in this case voters) are able to be exposed to can influence us. The idea here is the availability heuristic, which states that we will make decisions off of the more salient things we can remember (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). 

Take this completely unrelated to politics example. If I were walking to the library and I saw a homeless man begging for money or food on the street corner, I would be pretty sad to see this. Lets say that when I got to the library, they were having some major fundraiser that included collecting funds for a number of different charities. Between the animal shelters, the veteran's hospitals, the homeless, and the churches, I'd be most likely inclined to donate to the homeless shelters because the man on the street corner was more salient in my memory; I therefore based my decision off of what I remembered.

The different agendas described above, along with the availability heuristic are different aspects of how our thoughts can be influenced by the different types of media that we are exposed to. These can apply to every aspect of life - not just politics. 

On a side note, I hope that when it's time for you to cast your ballot, you all vote for who you think will make a better president, and not base your decision off of the last commercial you saw!

References

Schneider, F. W., Coutts, L. M., & Gruman, J. A. (2012). Applied social psychology, understanding and addressing social and practical problems. (2nd ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 1124-1131.

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5 Comments

I don't usually watch much TV, but when elections roll around I tend to avoid it even more. One of the aspects that I dislike the most of political seasons is the fact that, as you mentioned, campaigns are aimed more at bashing their opponents (mostly at personal levels) instead of addressing issues that would be more relevant to the election.
I recall the last election when I considered myself an undecided voter and how confused I got just before casting my vote. I tried to do some research on relevant issues during campaign season precisely because I got fed up with both parties' focus on smearing each other. Aside from the fact that I found it incredibly difficult to dig up unbiased information, in hindsight I realize that I tended to focus my research on issues that were salient in the media. As the availability heuristic suggests, I based my searches on how easy it was to recall something from my memory, which had been continuously bombarded by the media. So even though I was making an effort to inform myself on what I considered important, I was still mostly informing myself on issues that the media had determined to be important for me.
Thankfully (or hopefully), we learn from our mistakes. This time around, I made an effort to "Stay in touch" with politics throughout the last few years and making note of any issues I thought important so I can avoid some of the confusion and frustration brought on by the media just before elections.

I share your concern that the public too easily concedes to media influence – especially in the realm of politics. It is an unfortunate fact that during election season, the public quickly loses sight of the principles (such as making choices independent of big-budget advertisements) that make civic duty so unique, in lieu of -as you aptly imply- corporate/politically-sponsored salience. However, most of us are not ‘hard-wired’ to process so much contrasting information (Medin and Ross, 2005).

Hallin and Mancini (2004) state that there is an enduring relationship between the public, and the media as an institution, which explains why exactly one is so heavily reliant on the other and vice versa. In essence: they need each other. (Romantic, no?) The media evolves according to the needs/demands of the public, and the public evolves according to the content (and method of reporting) of information distributed by the media (Hallin and Mancini, 2004). The danger however, is that opinion is often communicated as fact, and conjecture (or, in some cases, outright fiction) is frequently reported as truth. Amidst a bombardment of opposing views, the public can rarely make a distinction between what is true and what is not, and they are forced to create shortcuts (or, heuristics, as you mention) to avoid becoming overwhelmed, thus yielding disproportionate power to the media (Popkin, 2003).

It is a ‘rare bird’ that can objectively consume and digest all of the information that is disseminated by the media. (I certainly am not one of them!) How then, do you propose that the impact of media could be lessened during political seasons --- particularly for those who, unlike yourself, are unable to “mute” the constant propaganda? And, what impact (if any) do you think it might have on voter turn-out?


References
Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems: Three models of media and politics. Cambridge University Press.

Medin, D. L., & Ross, B. H. (2005). Cognitive psychology (4th ed., pp. 477-519). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Popkin, S. L. (2006). Changing media, changing politics. Perspectives on Politics, 4(02). doi: 10.1017/S1537592706060245

I share your concern that the public too easily concedes to media influence – especially in the realm of politics. It is an unfortunate fact that during election season, the public quickly loses sight of the principles (such as making choices independent of big-budget advertisements) that make civic duty so unique, in lieu of -as you aptly imply- corporate/politically-sponsored salience. However, most of us are not ‘hard-wired’ to process so much contrasting information (Medin and Ross, 2005).

Hallin and Mancini (2004) state that there is an enduring relationship between the public, and the media as an institution, which explains why exactly one is so heavily reliant on the other and vice versa. In essence: they need each other. (Romantic, no?) The media evolves according to the needs/demands of the public, and the public evolves according to the content (and method of reporting) of information distributed by the media (Hallin and Mancini, 2004). The danger however, is that opinion is often communicated as fact, and conjecture (or, in some cases, outright fiction) is frequently reported as truth. Amidst a bombardment of opposing views, the public can rarely make a distinction between what is true and what is not, and they are forced to create shortcuts (or, heuristics, as you mention) to avoid becoming overwhelmed, thus yielding disproportionate power to the media (Popkin, 2003).

It is a ‘rare bird’ that can objectively consume and digest all of the information that is disseminated by the media. (I certainly am not one of them!) How then, do you propose that the impact of media could be lessened during political seasons --- particularly for those who, unlike yourself, are unable to “mute” the constant propaganda? And, what impact (if any) do you think it might have on voter turn-out?


References
Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems: Three models of media and politics. Cambridge University Press.

Medin, D. L., & Ross, B. H. (2005). Cognitive psychology (4th ed., pp. 477-519). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Popkin, S. L. (2006). Changing media, changing politics. Perspectives on Politics, 4(02). doi: 10.1017/S1537592706060245

There is no doubt these political commercials are annoying. But, there is also no doubt that these commercials work. If they did not work, these candidates would definitely not do them. I think we would be surprised how much these advertisements influence us. These ads play with our emotions, and ads that play to people's emotions are very effective (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2010). Another way to convince or influence people is to make the issues personally relevant. These commercials definitely do this. I live in North Carolina and most of the ads I see are about unemployment and jobs. I would bet that people who live in Arizona have commercials focused on immigration. So, by making these ads emotion-based and personally relevant, the candidates succeed in influencing the audience. Advertising for candidates is very annoying, but they definitely follow the guidelines for what it takes to actually influence the audience.

References

Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. M. (2010). Social psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Politics is a very intense social topic. What I mean by this is it’s generally not something the people will freely discuss around the water cooler and something that can cause conflicts between people who usually see eye on other issues. As you have pointed out the media plays a huge role in this. I will use an example that I stumbled across within the last few days. Let me stop here first and make a disclaimer. This is merely an observation and is not intended to sway anyone one way or the other, nor is it a direct representation on my beliefs. With that said here is what I noticed.

The attacks at Benghazi were the first major attack on the United States since 9/11/01. Both parties used this horrible act of terrorism (which hits especially close to home since we lost a World Campus Student) for their political gain. Shortly after the attacks Mitt Romney gave a press conference in which he condemned the act. Due to the media agenda which, involves the issues that the media finds important and are discussing extensively (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012) they made it seem as if Mitt Romney was laughing about it after the press conference. They focused on his mannerism when he was walking out as opposed to the message he conveyed during his speech. However this is just a back story. This past week Fox New covered an issue regarding the attack at Benghazi. They had been given information that the subjects on the ground attempted several times to have reinforcements sent to their area because they were being attacked. The report further stated that requested were denied. The only person who can approve or deny this request is the President of the United States. I attempted to find this story on other sites such as CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, but Fox News was the only one to cover it.
This lead me to think why was only one new oultlet giving this information. It shortly dawned on me that the agenda (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012) of Fox News is Republican based. A story such as this would be detrimental to the agenda that many other news agencies have. Airing such a story could cause detrimental damage to a campaign so close to the election.

As you pointed out there are a lot of independent voters who are still undecided. How are they supposed to form an educated idea of who to vote for when the relevant facts are being skewed by the medias agenda? This idea falls under political priming which states, “The issues the media is covering influence the information that people use to judge the president and other politicians” (Schneider et al., 2012, p. 158). It is still up to the person to decide who to vote for however, it is not up to the person on what information to use.

Reference:
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Adressing Socal and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

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