The American people deserve
accurate information, not only about Iraq.
Most of the latest research validates our suspicions regarding the
of mass media. And beyond that validation, the research also give us
understanding of what tactics and methods might be most effective.
Discussion of research and critical insights
by Timothy Flanagan
Is there a relationship between
communication and political knowledge? Mass and interpersonal communications are found to
influence political knowledge.
This perception is substantiated by research. Our
efforts are not in vain.
2. What are the cumulative and
complementary effects of news media use?
Mass media has a primary effect upon the voting
public. A varied exposure
to several media has both cumulative and
complementary effects upon cognition.
3. How newspapers and television
news cover campaigns and influence voters.
Do newspapers matter when it comes to politics?
A number of recent studies
suggest that the unique contribution of
newspapers in creating an informed
electorate is minimal, at best. Television
news certainly has little substance,
but the impact of delivery of information via
multiple sensory inputs might
mitigate this difference. But, in the long
run, those who read the news are
still generally better informed. Television news
viewing, in spite of the sensory
impact, has little effect on issues learning.
But the internet and cable-television
are certainly more useful than broadcast TV, and
they may in time provide a
complementary factor for the quality and quantity
of newspaper information. Newspapers may not be a universal remedy for all
political ills, but they remain
a realistic and viable option for voters to learn
certain types of information.
4. Issue-related learning in
It is a matter of conjecture as to how much information
and knowledge is
"sufficient" for individuals to fulfill their civic
responsibilities. But the
data in the Duke University study would indicate
that campaigns are
"blunt instruments." It is misguided to
assume that media campaigns
can raise new or complicated issues or
provide deeper understanding
of standing issues. Newspaper and
television news exposure can even
have a negative impact on learning about issues.
Ads have little effect.
Issues learning can and does
take place, but negative campaigning
can often be more effective than purely
factual information campaigns.
5. Revisiting, resolving, and
expanding fundamental issues about political education. The central question in
these studies is how media aid citizens in becoming better
informed voters. The study is at a crossroads
between communication and
political science. Communication focuses
on processes of influence, while
political science focuses on outcomes.
Communication certainly leads to
knowledge, but conclusions about the specific
role of media are still uncertain.
Political communication is about to become part
of a revolution defined by
the new digital media. Digital media will
function alongside other forms,
and more analysis needs to be done to determine
the differential effects of these
6. Why political information matters.
People who know more about
politics differ from those who know less. But it
remains to be determined how this "difference"
may matter. Often poorly-
informed voters emulate the behavior of the
well-informed. But it is clear
that more informed individuals are more
consistent with their values.
If values do matter, then
informed voters are essential. As we learn more
about how voters process the variable media
forms, we can better
predict optimal methods for inculcating civic
the quality and integrity of our democracy.
7. Effective political
So, how can we more
effectively communicate information to voters in the next
election cycle? "The pervasiveness of mass
media and their virtual monopoly
over the presentation of many kinds of
information must suggest .... enormous
social and political consequences,... (but) the
scholarly literature has been much
better at refuting, qualifying, and
circumscribing the thesis of media impact than
at supporting it. " (Bartels, 1993 p. 267)2
~~~ Many uncertainties remain, but much progress has been made.
Campaign learning is a function of exposure to
newspapers, television news
programs, candidate debates, and campaign
ads (negative ads more than
positive; of intramedia effects and interpersonal
media discussion; of candidate
or party voter contact activities; and of various
personal characteristics (such as
education and prior knowledge) that can
facilitate or inhibit learning. We are
constantly learning more about the variable
effects of these factors.
1. Political communication, Editor David L. Paletz at Duke University, Volume
22, Number 4, 2005
2. Bartels, L. M. (1993). Messages received: The political
impact of media exposure. American Political
Science Review, 87, 267-285.