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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Chayevsky had it nailed a long time ago

by digby

According to political scientist Matthew Dickinson, studies show that media can definitely influence primary voter behavior since voters at that point are not driven by party identification and often don't know the candidates very well. His article at Vox lays out in specific how media coverage during this period can make a big difference.

How might these media effects have contributed to Trump’s victory? The most obvious effect came about through the sheer number of news stories about Trump’s candidacy, many of them appearing in agenda-setting positions on front pages and at the top of news shows. Numerous studies have documented that Trump received far more media coverage than did his Republican rivals, even before any votes were cast. For example, one study finds that Trump received almost a billion dollars’ worth of free media coverage through February — an amount dwarfing that of any of his rivals.

Political scientists believe this outsize coverage likely produced several effects. First, it signaled that Trump’s candidacy was something to take seriously, rather than a novelty act that viewers might dismiss. Moreover, the disproportionate coverage of Trump’s views on issues like trade and immigration made these issues more salient to voters, meaning they were more likely to consider them when choosing a candidate.

Conversely, Trump’s media domination meant that his 16 Republicans rivals, and the issues they might like to see highlighted, were not getting beneficial exposure. Molly Ball’s defense of the media notwithstanding, it appears that by focusing coverage so heavily on Trump, journalists did, however inadvertently, put their thumb on the scale.

What about the argument that the media coverage followed Trump’s popularity rather than inspiring it? Importantly, the heavy media focus on Trump began before his rise in the polls and in the absence of other traditional indicators of candidate strength, such as campaign fundraising prowess. That’s suggestive of media influence, but research also backs up the idea that causality runs in that direction.

For both the 2012 and 2016 Republican presidential races, political scientists Kevin Reuning and Nick Dietrich analyzed daily data from the start of election polling up to the Iowa caucus. They looked at public interest in candidates (gauged by online searches), polling support for candidates, and media coverage on major cable news stations. They found that increased media coverage influenced the polls — not vice versa.the lead horse

But Trump benefited from more than disproportionate media coverage. He was also helped by the horse race frame most of the press adopted (which again, works differently in the primaries than in a two-party contest).

Harvard’s Thomas E. Patterson found that more than half of the coverage of Trump focused on some aspect of his standing in the race, including his position in the polls, his debate performance, or the size of his crowds. In contrast, only 12 percent focused on his issue stances or political beliefs, including his incendiary comments. "Trump is ahead" gets interpreted by voters as a positive frame, the research shows.

And even when the media did focus on Trump’s position on the issues or his inflammatory comments, the potential negative effect of covering Trump’s policies was weakened by the media’s pursuit of balance by quoting supporters of those stances.

In sum, it is true, as Ball argues, that voters "are the ones who decide — not the media." But the research shows that voters’ decisions are predicated on information about candidates that is partly gleaned via media campaign coverage.

Those academic studies suggest that the volume and tone of information provided by the media influenced the way voters viewed Trump’s candidacy, and contributed to his surge in the polls and his eventual victory. (Though surely Patterson takes things a step too far by calling Trump "arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee.")

So what now?

Dickinson says that it won't work the same for Trump in the General because the media will seek to give Clinton equal time and his appeal will be undercut because they will be anxious to show her counter-framing of much of Trump's agenda.

Right. More likely, the press will continue to give Trump much more coverage and will try to turn Clinton into a monster who is his equal in order to "balance it out."

Anyway, it's an interesting piece that refutes the notion that the press had nothing to do with
Trump's unlikely rise. But I also have some pity for the media too. They are in a business crisis and along comes this demagogue who will say anything and people will tune in. It's "Network" come to life. Ratings are king.