Media agenda setting and its electoral consequences : a study of political advertising, the news media, and the public in the 2002 primary election for Texas governor

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2003-08

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The present study explores political advertising, the news media, and the public--the three principal components of campaign communication--and their interactions in terms of agenda formation, agenda setting, and salience effects in a gubernatorial primary. In doing so, this study aims at showing how the mass media influence the topics of public opinion and the direction of public behavior by manipulating the relative saliencies of candidate attributes. First, this study investigated agenda formation, focusing on the role of political ad--an efficient surrogate of the whole campaign agenda. The data analyses provided partial support for the hypothesis positing campaign ads as a significant agenda setter for the news media. Televised candidate commercials meaningfully influenced subsequent candidate coverage on television, yet showed a mutual relationship with the print news. The data, however, provided strong support for the print newsís role as an agenda initiator for television news. It was also found that the tone of advertising could moderate the effects of campaign ads on subsequent news coverage. Specifically, there was a stronger correspondence of the news agenda with oppositional ads than with self-promoting ads. Second, although both the paid and unpaid media were not stunningly successful overall in shaping candidate images among the public, there were especially interesting patterns about specific media and specific candidate attributes. Most notably, when the analysis focused on the issue and personal dimension of candidate attributes, the advertising media displayed consequential impacts on the votersí perception of the candidatesí issue priorities whereas the news media, especially the local newspaper, showed statistically significant effects on how the public perceived the candidates in terms of their personal qualifications and character. Another interesting finding was that the attributesetting effects of the news media were substantially higher for a brand-new candidate than for a long-time state politician. The moderating role of advertising tone in attribute agenda setting was also substantiated. Specifically, the data analyses suggested that attack strategies could be effective only when they dealt with the opponentís issue problems. Third, concerning the consequences of attribute agenda setting, the study demonstrated a significant level of the news mediaís attribute-priming effects in the personal dimension. This study also investigated the direct impacts of certain personal attributes salient as voting criteria in oneís mind on his/her candidate favorability and voting choice. Specifically, the public saliencies of the personal attributes most frequently highlighted in the candidate coverage, such as experience, competence, and integrity, functioned as meaningful predictors of political preference. Among others, the salience of experience showed the most significant explanatory power for feelings about the candidates, advantaging the candidate having a long-time political career rather than the first-time candidate. The public salience of experience also functioned as a significant predictor of whom the voters would be likely to vote for.

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