Does traditional media practice remain in the shadow of the ubiquity of social media elements on voting behavior in American Presidential Elections 2012?

By Gizem Oztürk | 6 November 2012

To quote this document: Gizem Oztürk, “Does traditional media practice remain in the shadow of the ubiquity of social media elements on voting behavior in American Presidential Elections 2012?”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Tuesday 6 November 2012, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/1571, displayed on 28 February 2020

Study of Voting Behaviour began in the twentieth century, and since then various factors had several impacts on it such as social class, geography, age and media. However, nowadays one can claim that the strongest instrument that affects the social behaviour is the Digital Media rather than the traditional one.

On EU Commission page, social media described as “online technologies and practices that are used to share opinions and information, promote discussion, and build relationships”. This instrument is being used by the U.S. for their electoral selection. However, according to many political observers, these online technologies still have a long way to go for Europe. Also, some digital media experts believe that the social media effect on U.S political communication and its agenda setting will be an outstanding example for the 2014 European elections to understand how social media will affect the relation between politics and society.

The ubiquity of social media is undeniable, but the traditional media do still exist; therefore it is relevant to ask whether digital media has a tendency to be the only key player on voting behaviour?

Professor Hayes' research focuses on political communication and political behavior in American politics. A former journalist, he is interested in how information from the media and other political actors influences citizens’ attitudes during public policy debates and election campaigns. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and has appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, Political Behavior, Political Communication, Politics & Gender, American Politics Research, and Presidential Studies Quarterly.

In your article entitled, “Has Television Personalized Voting Behavior?”(2009), you mentioned that "Scholars and political observers have suggested that television has "personalized" voting behavior in American presidential elections by encouraging citizens to cast ballots on the basis of candidate image and personality."  

How would you describe traditional media personalizes voting behavior in American presidential elections and how significant is the digital media in compare with the traditional one in regards with this?

As I noted in my 2009 Political Behavior article, there has long been an assumption that television encourages American voters to focus more closely on candidates' personal traits and appearance. But while that seems like a plausible hypothesis, the data don’t seem to bear it out. Americans are no more likely today to say that they are voting for a candidate because of his personal attributes than they were 60 years ago. Nor do their assessments of candidate's personality -- his leadership ability, integrity, and other attributes -- play a stronger role in shaping voting behavior.

The solution to this puzzle likely has to do with other changes in American politics. As television has become more important since the 1950s, so have political parties. The Democratic and Republican Party have polarized along ideological lines, with the Democrats moving left and the Republicans moving right. This has made candidates’ policy differences more salient to voters and has encouraged them to cast ballots and align their partisanship on the basis of issues, not candidate personality. Despite the emphasis television has placed on candidates as people, most voters see them first as creatures of their political party.

Social media certainly encourage voters to feel like they have a closer relationship with candidates. After all, the candidates' Facebook pages and Twitter feeds often contain communications that are "from" the candidates -- even if they themselves aren't actually sitting at the keyboard. In many ways, this is similar to the "false intimacy" that television encourages us to develop with our politicians, as communication scholar Rod Hart and others have written about. Now, it's just happening in a different forum. But I suspect that this isn't radically altering the way that voters feel about and assess candidates. Partisanship and ideology still strongly shape voters' evaluations of candidates, and social media are unlikely to change that.

As a co-author of the book entitled "Influence from Abroad: How Foreign Voices in the Media Shape U.S. Public Opinion." (2011), you stated that US Public opinion is affected by foreign elite voices. Would you consider that public votes that will be electing the new US President would also get affected by this?

In my book with Matt Guardino (of Providence College), we show that foreign voices -- leaders of other nations and representatives of international organizations like the United Nations -- can sometimes influence public opinion in the United States. For instance, in the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003, millions of Americans moved in opposition to the invasion because of criticism of the Bush Administration's policies from overseas. Why did that happen? Because the mainstream media in the United States devoted a considerable amount of attention to these foreign voices. If journalists had not deemed international actors as newsworthy, far fewer Americans would have been exposed to these perspectives, and public opinion in the United States would have been more favorable toward the prospect of war.

Given that dynamic -- that the American public will respond to foreign leaders only when the media devote attention to them -- I suspect the international community won't affect the presidential election this year. The campaign between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney has focused almost exclusively on domestic issues, like the economy, tax rates, and health care. There has been very little discussion of foreign policy, other than the recent controversy about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Journalists, thus, haven't seen much of a reason to seek out the perspectives of leaders from abroad. And this means that the vast majority of the public won't hear from them. As a result, I'd be surprised if foreign voices played any role in determining whether Obama or Romney gets to live in the White House for the next four years.

A big thank you for Dr. Danny Hayes for this interview.

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