Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Virtuous and Viscious Circles

The news media promote both a virtuous and vicious circle when it comes to learning about public affairs, according to a new study in the British Journal of Sociology.

How's that for a news lede?

"The stronger finding is that use of media and, especially, a positive engagement with the news, seems to sustain both voting and an interest in politics," the authors write. That's the good news, the virtuous stuff. The "already-engaged" become more interested and engaged; however, the opposite, 'vicious circle' is also indicated, with the unengaged becoming less interested or engaged."

This sounds remarkably like the old knowledge gap thesis, though it's not cited. That's being picky. The point is that news consumption does contribute to factors of civil participation, but not so much for those already "unengaged" in voting, in discussion, in being involved in the stuff of democracy.

Good news? The media "enhances more than undermines participation." Bad news? It can also have some dampening effect in actual political action by some consumers.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Attitudes about the U.S.

What people know is often more an issue of affect (emotion) than it is cognition (thinking). Attitudes about the U.S. by people in other countries are obviously a function of both, with current events sprinkled in to explain variation over time.

From 2007 to 2008, opinions about the U.S. have improved in such countries as South Korea and Tazania but gone down in Japan and Mexico.

People from Turkey have the least favorable views of the U.S., according to the Pew study. South Koreans give the U.S. the highest marks, with 70% saying "favorable."

All of these are susceptible to their own economic conditions and however the U.S. has either screwed up or succeeded in their backyard of late.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Internet & Politics

In 1992, talk shows (TV and radio) became the buzz medium. Bill Clinton, on late-night talk TV, blew on his sax. Rush Limbaugh flexed his talk radio muscle. By 1994, talk shows from TV and radio wielded significant influence. Today they're merely part of the media whole.

In the mid 1990s, many Americans discovered the Internet (never mind it had been around since 1969). The Web made it easy for everyday people to get online, the click-and-duh moment (yeah, I'm a net elitist who fondly remembers the early days). By 2000 the Net became truly influential in presidential politics. Today, like talk shows, it's been mainstreamed.

Thus a new report by the fine folks at Pew comes as no surprise, but is welcome nonetheless.

The lede:
A record-breaking 46% of Americans have used the internet, email or cell phone text messaging to get news about the campaign, share their views and mobilize others. And Barack Obama's backers have an edge in the online political environment.

As with all Pew reports, this one is finely researched, full of rich detail. I'm not going to repeat it here, but what people know about the campaign is more and more influenced by what they see, what they read, and what they post themselves online. From YouTube to blogs to, how people learn about candidates and campaigns is changing. All for the good? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Great piece this month in The Atlantic (the print issue, so go spend a few bucks!)about how Google is making us all dumber. I read it. Felt even dumber, because I suspect it's true; but that's the stuff of another post, another time.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Tim Russert's unfortunate death from a heart attack received lots of coverage, none of which I feel obligated to repeat or link to; you can find it easily enough. His Meet the Press is one of those shows loved by political junkies and avoided by the rest of America. I doubt such programs add much to the political discourse except among the chattering class, and I also doubt you learn much from watching such programs. Those who watch such shows already know a lot about politics and public affairs. The audience is into theater, or are policy wonks, or need to get out more in the sunshine.

This isn't to make demean Russert. He was very good at what he did, and he'll be missed by those who watched him and similar programs. It's too bad he couldn't have stuck around until at least the end of the presidential election. He would have loved to play a part in this one.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Polls and Presidents

In 2004, nationally, George W. Bush and John Kerry were tied most of the summer until Kerry pulled ahead in August with a convention bounce that disappeared by September. In the Fall the two were either tied or Bush was slightly ahead. Obviously Bush won. In the summer of 2000, Bush led early on, then Gore caught up, and it became historically close.

So it's 2008 and the national polls show it close but Obama remains slightly ahead (48% to 41%). Does that matter?


The real election is a set of smaller state elections that decide the Electoral College, so national polls numbers are misleading. Plus Obama has been locked in a newsmaking battle with Hillary Clinton while McCain campaigned in obscurity. Apples and oranges, this early on.

What people know about the campaign often comes from election polls, which are terrific barometers of what's happening, the effects of real-world experiences, lousy economic conditions, and personal foibles by candidates and their respective pastors (or ex-pastors, or former pastors, or religious confidantes, or whatever). Enjoy the polls. They make great party discussion fodder. But never use a general national poll as guidance of how all the various red and blue states will break on election night. National polls are a snapshot of national thoughts, and a fuzzy one at that. Fun, fascinating, illuminating, but not all that predictive when it gets down to state-by-state battles.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Stripping for Knowledge

Saw this column about a MySpace application called SexyPolitics. You know ya gotta check it out, even if you don't want to admit it to family and friends. The MySpace app says:

It’s a new way to learn about politics. Answer correctly and the male/female of your choosing takes off a piece of clothing in the name of political awareness.

So what is sexy? We believe sexy is being informed. This game helps identify really sexy people as they earn points for themselves, their companies, and their schools.
The columnist, Linda Lowen, probably has it right when she asks: "How low can we go? This is too stupid for words." Then again, I never thought of political knowledge as being sexy. Who knew? Reminds me a little of Naked News. Then again, everything reminds me of Naked News.

I don't have a MySpace page so I honestly cannot check out the app and see how it works, but here's a sense of the quality -- the most popular topic at the time I checked was, and I'm not making this up and the spelling is exactly how it's posted, Obamma Musslum or Raciest you deside? If you want to read some idiotic screed (and I'm no Obama fan), then click and enjoy. More like a Moron Convention than anything else.

Election time ... the joy of watching the crazies crawl out from under their rocks.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bad News is Good News

A research article in a recent Political Communication demonstrates that not all bad news is bad news, at least when it comes to media content and political participation. Using 1974 data, Paul Martin pairs a comprehensive analysis of newapaper content with national survey data to show that the news media, when covering the bad, help energize people to participate.

So the news is only bad? That's good.

He writes:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, media negativity need not be detrimental for democratic citizenship. Indeed, the media may serve as a sentinel to the people, arousing them to participate when conditions seem bleak. Rather than decrying the press for being too negative, we may wish to encourage newspapers and media outlets that paint the world in rosy colors to put the thorns back into the picture.

The effect was most pronounced for those with medium levels of knowledge. That's interesting in and of itself.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Must Be Election Season

You know it's getting closer to election season when the negatives go up or the favorability ratings go down.

The Pew Center's numbers, seen at the right, show that what people know about the two likely party nominees, and what they know isn't all positive. Flip these and the negatives get higher and higher.

Interesting. Pew notes that McCain's negatives are political and Obama's negatives are personal. In other words, independents are suspicious of McCain't political stances, and they are suspicious of Obama's personal beliefs. This is telling, since elections are often about either competence or character. We don't know yet which is the dominant frame, but the battle will focus there.

Pull up an adult beverage, get a comfy chair, because this Fall is gonna be fun.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Holiday Travels

Been on the road a week, doing the beach, visiting friends in Florida, getting sand out of places where sand should never be. We visited a lot of cafes, restaurants, hotel lobbies. Many had TVs pointed at cable news.

In all cases, it was Fox News.

Fascinating stuff, that whole chunks of middle America -- at least the parts I visited -- have Fox on all the time. I don't recall seeing CNN even once, nor MSNBC, nor any other flavor of TV news-like products. Fascinating from a "what people know" perspective given the audience of Fox tends to be less informed than the audience of CNN, of The Daily Show, of almost any print medium you can name. A lot of that is the nature not of the news itself, but of the socio-demographics drawn to the Fox forumula.

Still, after a while it kinda freaked me out. Fox does a helluva job talking about the news, but a crappy job reporting the news. I suppose that's what people want, the chatter, not hard news. Plus Fox boasts those hot talking heads who are so easy to look at.

TV -- the cheese whiz of news.

Back later this week on a more regular schedule of posting, prodding, and producing blog content. Really. Once I get the sand out.