Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Frustration with Media and ANES

The ANES is putting together a study called the 2010-2010 Evaluations of Government and Society Study.  It should be great.

While you can read about it here, "The overarching theme of the surveys," according to the page, "is citizen attitudes about government and society."  Given the tea party atmosphere and distrust of government, it struck me that certain media content -- particularly watching Beck or Hannity or perhaps Fox News in general -- might be good concepts to explore in relation to people's attitudes about government in this Tea Party atmosphere.

Guess not.

My proposal got shot down, in part because I didn't do enough work at getting it through the process, in part because they mistakenly don't buy media exposure as a viable concept.  This is, in part, due to a devastating research paper from 1993 by Larry Bartels that I never found particularly convincing, but really got the attention of a political science community that runs the ANES but, let's face it, while very smart, are far from being media scholars.  Plus, Bartels was looking at the broad exposure items (TV news, newspapers, etc.) on the old 0-to-7 days scale, while I was focused on particular programs and networks, something that would significantly reduce measurement error and also provide meaningful insight into particular programs and hosts who tend to criticize government and who also tend to have significant influence on those in the public who tend to criticize government.

In other words, they screwed up.  Or at least I'd like to think they did for my own self-esteem, but it would be helpful -- theoretically and normatively -- to know if watching or listening to Beck and Hannity and their friends plays a significant role in how people respond to government or spark their protests against government, or more important, influences the way they perceive government's role in society.  We're left with damn little else in this study, at least when it comes to the role the news media may play, at least at this time.  Or we'll get the same tired media items they always use in ANES because, let's face it, political scientists are convinced the media don't matter (er, except when they get the chance to go on TV, then suddenly it does).

Do I sound bitter?  I'm not, really.  There's enough on my plate, thank you very much.  I just find it unfortunate that the quality of media items never seems to change in the national elections studies, that Pew has moved so far ahead of them.  But we do have a million ways to ask questions that date back to the 1940s, most of which are never used in anyone's analyses. 


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