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When the World Outside Gets Inside Your Head: The Effects of Media Context on Perceptions of Public Opinion
Lindsay H. Hoffman Communication Research published online 2 February 2012 DOI: 10.1177/0093650211435938 The online version of this article can be found at: http://crx.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/05/07/0093650211435938

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When the World Outside Gets Inside Your Head:The Effects of Media Context on Perceptions of Public Opinion
Lindsay H. Hoffman1

Communication Research XX(X) 1­–23 © The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0093650211435938 http://crx.sagepub.com

Abstract Citizens are variably influenced by information flow depending on their location within a social structure. One method of understanding this influence is through an assessment of multiple levels of analysis. Although many scholars have called for such analyses, few have heeded that call. This research addresses the relevance of “context” to the study of media effects on perceptions of public opinion. Survey data from the American National Election Studies are combined with a content analysis of campaign news in 24 regional newspapers, as well as advertising data, in order to parse out contextual media effects. Results show that perceived public opinion varies significantly across media markets. Newspaper use and personal candidate preference had a significant effect on the likelihood of perceiving Kerry to be the state-winning candidate.There was also a significant cross-level interaction between media context and political discussion on perceptions of public opinion. Keywords multilevel modeling, media effects, public opinion, social reality

In the early 20th century, Walter Lippmann’s treatise on the “world outside and the pictures in our heads” encouraged generations of communication scholars to examine the effects of the environment on perceived social reality. More recently, Price (1988; Price & Roberts, 1987) called for an assessment of media as the central mechanism linking members of mass society, and McLeod, Pan, and Rucinski (1995) argued that “it is essential to develop cross-level theories,” if we are to understand public opinion processes (p. 76; see also Pan & McLeod, 1991). This study examines contextual effects on perceptions of public opinion in a highly charged
1

University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA

Corresponding Author: Lindsay H. Hoffman, Department of Communication, Department of Political Science & International Relations, University of Delaware, 250 Pearson Hall, Newark, DE 19716, USA Email: lindsayh@udel.edu

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Ostman. Gunther & Storey. p. Eveland (2002) acknowledged that many of the theories and hypotheses on perceptions of social reality focus primarily on the misperceptions of public opinion and media effects. in the 2004 U. Much research has demonstrated that media use and content have effects on perceived public opinion and social reality (Christen & Gunther. “Whether they are accurate or not. 1995. For many political issues. such as political discussion.sagepub.. p. adding to existing theoretical work on the impersonal influence (Mutz. the research demonstrates more nuanced effects of traditional indicators. 1998) and social projection (Mullen et al. individual perceptions are influenced by other mechanisms as well. 2003. As such. 213). at least in part. & McDonald. As much of the work on perceptions originated in the fields of psychology and social psychology.com at National School of Political on August 28. 2000.. 2003. Mutz & Soss. we are at risk of perhaps missing the bigger picture. 73) by which individuals understand the social and political world. and misperceptions. 1998. regardless of whether they are accurate. namely media contexts.. 2012 . others revealed Bush as the winner. which can be defined as an individual’s “awareness.2 Communication Research XX(X) political campaign. on their location. Gunther. Although the accuracy of perceptions—whether a person has perceived the media or others correctly or not—is important and a central component of research discussed here. the perceptions individuals have of social reality can influence their behavior. 1998. then. By examining the influence of perceptions of public opinion in a multilevel context. 1985). 2005). However. media serve as the primary source of information (Books & Prysby.” Gunther and Storey (2003) concluded. The accuracy of these perceptions. For instance. where both news coverage and actual climate of opinion may vary. and still others predicted Kerry would win (Patterson. Christen & Gunther. the primary impetus for research has been discovering cognitive mechanisms that produce perceptions. of social reality. For example. presidential election. 1989. 2003. 253).” impacting social perceptions of an issue (Mutz. Rhodebeck. some polls showed Bush and Kerry in a dead heat. The Influence of Individual Media Use on Public Opinion Perceptions Media operate as “epistemological devices” (McLeod et al. media consumers will receive different information about which candidate is ahead and which is behind. Representations of public opinion have been found to influence individuals’ perceptions of public opinion. ultimately influencing what we know and how we know it (McLeod et al. on perceptions of public opinion. 1995. 1995. 1998). how do these effects manifest themselves differently depending on where an individual lives? Residing in different regions may encourage people to obtain information about issues depending. 1991. 1989). But. is arguably not as relevant as answering the question: Do these Downloaded from crx. research has demonstrated that media have an “impersonal influence. providing the raw material for individuals to understand the opinion climate around them. Daschmann. 1997). Huckfeldt & Sprague. 1995). assessment or sense of relevant others’ opinions” (Glynn. 1995. Mutz.S. Mutz. “perceptions can have a self-fulfilling effect on the realization of communication goals” (p. 1995. What has not been explored is whether these perceptions might differ by contexts like media markets. Depending on the sampling of public opinion polls and how close the race is.

& Erbring. p. and individuals. at the aggregate level. 1995. But what is a media context? Context itself has been defined in numerous ways across multiple disciplines. A media context. Campbell. this influences how well a candidate does in a particular location (e. media have the potential to set the public agenda (e. Yet what is missing from many of these studies is attention to cross-level influences. 2004. the media.g.. These campaigns.g. & Henry. Shaw. Shaw. 1991. & Huckfeldt. Their definition is rooted in the primitive meaning of the term: “a geographically bounded unit” (Books & Prysby. from “contexts. Alford. Goldenberg. transform over time as a result of political communication between elites.” which are individually structured. 2002). 1979) and candidate name recognition (Goldenberg & Traugott.. The boundary of this unit—often specified as neighborhoods. Huckfeldt Downloaded from crx.com at National School of Political on August 28. and interest groups. many scholars simply assume some sort of flow from media content to the public without clearly examining the mechanisms of that information flow. 1983). Although definitions vary. 1991.” which are structurally imposed. in addition to providing a succinct definition. Huckfeldt & Sprague. Donohue. Orbell. We also know that at the individual level. In this way. research has demonstrated that campaign strategies vary significantly by location and. instead of examining individual and contextual variables in concert.and Contextual-Level Influences As individuals obtain information about presidential campaigns primarily through media or interpersonal discussions (Books & Prysby. we might also be able to assess whether those perceptions influence political behavior. 1980). 3). and the information therein. and some seminal work has demonstrated such effects (e. & Franz. Also. 2012 . 2. Feldman & Price. is a geographically bounded unit that is defined by the media that are specific to that unit. clubs. Tichenor. 1987. or states—is what differentiates it from nongeographic “networks” such as families.sagepub. 1995) offer perhaps the most exhaustive and mutually exclusive account of the dimensions of context.” which they conceptualized as “areally defined groups of people” (p. campaign effects can be traced to changes in political communication—or the flow of information between actors—over time. see also Weatherford. 2006. 1970.Hoffman 3 perceptions vary by information context? If these perceptions vary when the actual content to which individuals are exposed varies. media influences cognitions like political efficacy and trust (Miller. When it comes to election campaigns. 2006.. 1995. in particular. research has connected survey data with content analyses to demonstrate that beyond individual characteristics. 2008. communities. Linking Individual. 1984. Stewart & Reynolds. Goldstein. & Olien. 1990). Huckfeldt and Sprague (1995) differentiated “networks. Ridout. then. Dalton. Shah. 1980). The Influence of Media Context on Public Opinion Perceptions Many of the conceptualizations of “context” have their origins in political science. 1998. Beck. This flow of information serves as a primary mechanism for contextual effects. Books and Prysby (1991. Iyengar & Kinder. Books and Prysby were specifically interested in “local context. McCombs & Reynolds.g.

2012 . we might look to the associative network model of memory (Roskos-Ewoldsen. for example. The former suggests that the information that comes to mind most readily will be the information most likely to be used in making a judgment (Higgins. Roskos-Ewoldsen. 2002. and that this is reality. 1996. 1995. concluding that Republicans vote more. & Olien. which influences the information that becomes a part of that small subset of available information” (p. 1997).sagepub. “media consumption enhances accessibility. But. suggesting that one might interpret. the media context—emphasizes one candidate over another.. two methods for information processing may provide some idea as to why individuals in different contexts might interpret information differently: accessibility and applicability. which purports that information is stored in nodes that are connected by associative pathways. which varies by context. Yet much of the research has tended to aggregate individual-level information to create contextual data. Dyck. it is important to assess the nature of that media content. and (c) make interpretations based on the way they have processed this information when called upon to make decisions about related issues or topics. how many people in one’s state support a candidate based on the information they obtain through the media. Srull & Wyer. why might we expect to see different effects for individuals in varying contexts? Theoretically. The process by which media can affect audience evaluations is sometimes referred to as knowledge activation (Price & Tewksbury. RoskosEwoldsen. An underlying assumption of this model is that people are cognitive misers. Mutz. an individual might presume that this represents the opinion in his or her community. Donohue.g. 2002).g. To further theorize how these individual-level processes might be influenced by context. Tichenor. and heuristics serve as a less cognitively straining form of retrieving information (Price & Tewksbury. 1987). 1980). but vote significantly less when more Democrats are in their local surroundings. These determinants lead to judgments of set size and probability. Thinking Multilevel Research has tended to see media as having fixed and unvarying relationships with individuals across space (McLeod & Blumler. 2002). As such.. 1997). In this sense. & Carpentier. & Carpentier. it is only recently that the methods to Downloaded from crx. when answering a survey question about who will win an election) influences how that information is interpreted (Roskos-Ewoldsen. if one’s environment—that is. 1989). For example.and contextual-level data. Moreover. and Shaw (2004) aggregated voter turnout in neighborhoods to assess homogeneity of party identification. what one “knows” about his or her reality can vary depending on what is perceived in the media. Gimpel. the effects of media might also vary by context.com at National School of Political on August 28. 74). Although communication research has long acknowledged the effects of community-level influences on personal behaviors and attitudes (e. The knowledge activated by the media that is judged to be applicable to the current situation (e. Shrum. This study examines effects on perceptions of public opinion using both individual. 1979).4 Communication Research XX(X) & Sprague. As Shrum (2002) noted. These various theoretical perspectives can be combined to propose that (a) people who are exposed to information (b) tend to process information in ways that are not cognitively straining.

missing data. and therefore its effects on perceived public opinion will vary. See Figure 1 for a graphical representation of the proposed cross-level relationships.. Gunther. But. 2002). 2012 .. by including contextual data in the analysis. multilevel modeling is an appropriate method because it is more flexible than other methods in handing unbalanced groups. and analyzing models with multiple variables at each level (Slater et al. 2006). In other words.Hoffman MACRO (contextual level) 5 Media content Frequency of candidate mentions Moderating Variables Candidate preference Political Discussion MICRO (individual level) Perceptions Perceived statewinning candidate Figure 1. Proposed cross-level interactions between media content and perceptions with moderating variables at the individual level assess these effects have become more widespread in the discipline (Slater. are perceived to be indirect (e. does media content influence perceptions of public opinion as these perceptions interact with individual-level predictors? As communication is a “multilevel phenomenon” (Slater et al. & Bolsen. 1980. Hypothesis 1 (H1): There will be significant group-level heterogeneity among media contexts in perceived public opinion. if contextual differences are to be found..g. Acknowledging the inherently multilevel nature of the present phenomenon. Snyder. Multilevel models also allow researchers to examine cross-level interactions to determine whether the effects vary across levels of analysis (Steenbergen & Jones.com at National School of Political on August 28. 1995). Contextual effects do indeed vary by individual characteristics and predispositions. 2006). then we must first establish that the perceptions of public opinion vary significantly across different media contexts. Also. Barabas. 2006). I first propose a baseline prediction based on the assumption that the frequency of candidate mentions will differ across media markets. 2006). 1998). it becomes even more essential to include multiple levels of influence. Mutz. & Hayes. 1998. Huckfeldt & Sprague. and such effects can only be asserted when individual behavior depends on an external factor after individual-level determinants are taken into account (Huckfeldt. 1989. such as perceptions of public opinion. Downloaded from crx. it is possible to account for greater variation in this outcome variable. ultimately increasing explanatory power (Jerit. As many media effects.sagepub.

& Goldstein. The measure of Kerry-to-Bush mentions provides a snapshot of the media environment during the presidential campaign. 2002). the more readily accessible that information will be when called upon. Yet the media environment is also likely to influence these perceptions.. Huckfeldt & Sprague. Liebhart. what role do personal opinions play in influencing perceptions when we look at the actual media context? When taking media context into account.sagepub. which suggest that the more frequently and recently a person receives information. This social projection hypothesis suggests that perceptions of public opinion will rely mostly on personal opinions. As variation in media attention affects political knowledge (Jerit et al.g. This research suggests a convergence of individual perceptions of those who perceive Candidate A and Candidate B once the actual media environment is accounted for. This is rooted in the theories of information processing outlined above. such that people presume others to have the same opinions as themselves. 2012 . and the more that newspaper mentions Candidate A over Candidate B. because people tend to see media coverage as mirroring public opinion (Gunther. 2004). Research has demonstrated that projection and media effects are likely to interact in predicting perceptions of public opinion (Shamir & Shamir. individuals often simply refer to their own self-reactions (Robbins & Krueger. 2000). because such interaction is more likely among those individuals nearer to each other in location. when asked to describe others. The question driving the next hypothesis is. it is hypothesized to have a variable effect on perceptions of public opinion. 2001. Franz. the more likely that respondent might be to say that Candidate A is likely to win his or her state. and is operationalized by a measure of the ratio of Kerry-to-Bush candidate references in regional newspapers. 2005). it is uncertain which direction this effect will follow. will projection effects persist? It is possible that the “reality” of one’s media context might diminish the effects of social projection. In other words. Christen. & Chia. such that individuals with high levels of newspaper reading who reside in media contexts that mention one candidate more frequently will perceive that candidate to win the state. Social interaction Downloaded from crx. Huckfeldt (1986) and Huckfeldt and Sprague (1995) suggest that social interaction is a key mechanism for contextual effects. Gunther & Christen. Freedman.g.com at National School of Political on August 28. 2006). simply. but there is more content in his media market about Candidate B. Those individuals who are more attentive to the campaign by reading the newspaper—an individual-level variable—might arguably perceive public opinion to correspond to what they read in the news. However.6 Communication Research XX(X) Media content serves as the contextual (or Level 2) measure here. 1995) and media context moderates this effect (e. Interpersonal discussion about politics can also influence perceptions of public opinion (e.. the more an individual uses the newspaper. However. Hypothesis 2 (H2): Media context will moderate the effect of newspaper reading on perceived public opinion. if a person prefers Candidate A.. so I propose a nondirectional hypothesis: Hypothesis 3 (H3): Media context will significantly moderate the effect of individual candidate preference on perceived public opinion.

Newspaper Content Analysis A matching process was undertaken to match individual cases from the ANES data file with newspapers in their geographic area. Therefore. 1996. Method This study used three sources of data: (a) newspaper content related to the 2004 presidential campaign from August 24 to November 1. 2004. I cross-referenced that metro area with information Downloaded from crx. Ridout et al. 2004. 2012 . and vote intentions (e. and (c) advertising data from the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project (2004). discussion. or the geographic locale did not include electronically accessible newspapers. Erbring & Young. 2004). in addition to media content. above and beyond advertising? Research has demonstrated that exposure to campaign advertising can increase interest. a ratio of Democratic-to-Republican favored ads will also be included in these models. 1979). 1997). It is hypothesized that media context will moderate the effect of social interaction on perceptions in much the same way as H2. Zhao & Chaffee. upon obtaining information about the primary sampling unit (PSU) for each individual respondent in the ANES 2004 survey file. thus serving as the fodder for political discussion. Freedman. Hypothesis 4 (H4): Media context will significantly moderate the effect of political discussion on perceived public opinion.sagepub. Brians & Wattenberg. Franz.com at National School of Political on August 28. during which number of cases were systematically removed from analysis because they did not match the geographic data.. the proliferation of advertising in a media market is likely to influence perceptions of who will win an election. Match respondent’s PSU to media context: First. (b) a survey of Americans during this campaign (American National Election Studies [ANES]. voting likelihood.g. media can provide information that is in many ways dependent on and reflective of geographic location. The analyses will also control for political advertising because. 2004. Johnston. 1991.Hoffman 7 is only one of several mechanisms through which context affects individuals (Books & Prysby. Hagen. What will be the media effects. knowledge. The process of matching newspapers to individual cases from the ANES data file was as follows: 1. & Jamieson. 2004. & Goldstein. However. 1995). Individuals obtain politically relevant information from their surroundings and this information is naturally locationally biased (Burbank. examining these effects in a multilevel model is an intuitive way to add depth to this line of research.. In other words. but it is the dominant framework in the literature on contextual effects. such that individuals with high levels of political discussion who reside in media contexts that mention one candidate more frequently will perceive that candidate to win the state.

city. because Social Explorer’s maps permit zooming and also have cloropleth functionality. I used Social Explorer (2006) to confirm. for each individual census tract. Four other communities included more than one newspaper that were not run by the same company. town. Census Factfinder “geo within geo” selection category was used in order to select states.sagepub. it was included. If the census tract included pieces of either the urban area or place. Census. If the area was rural. These newspapers were the Detroit Free Press and the Seattle Times. I also checked the SRDS (2003) for adjacent counties if census tracts bordered other counties. it was also included.S. In order to maintain a reasonable amount of content while also representing the content in those areas. one newspaper from each company was randomly selected to include in the sample. if a newspaper included in those adjacent counties had greater circulation than the one(s) reported for the county of interest and were in the same state. ANES data were collected by county. Census that matched the PSU given by ANES.S. New York (New York Times and New York Daily News). If it was unclear from Factfinder whether the census tract should be included. 3. I looked up the county in which the area was located. and Boston/Worcester (Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette). Salt Lake City. If that area was not included in the list of metro areas. or village—or identified as a “Census Designated Place” (U. Census. I used the U.S. the U.S. such that content from both newspapers was included in the media context matching that respondent. Assess communities with more than one newspaper: There were two cities with two newspapers operated by the same company: Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Seattle Times. which can indicate areas of greater population density such as metro areas.com at National School of Political on August 28. The decision factor was whether the census tract was in either the “urban area” or “place” as specified by the U. For both Denver and Salt Lake City. 2003). The “place” is a concentration of population either legally bounded as an incorporated place—which have legal descriptions of borough. both newspapers were listed as having relatively equal rates of circulation.8 Communication Research XX(X) obtained from the Standard Rate and Data Service (SRDS. then specific census tracts within each state. Only if the census tract did not include either urban area or place associated with the PSU was it excluded. Select newspaper(s) in the media market: I then selected the newspaper(s) for each metro area that had the highest circulation figures from the SRDS (2003).S. This followed the same procedure as if a media market had competing newspapers. 2012 . Census 2000 Factfinder (U. 2000) and Social Explorer (2006) to map whether that census tract was indeed included in the metro area specified by the PSU. These were Denver (Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News). 2. Then. 2000). The urban area classification is a collective term that cuts across other hierarchies and can be in metropolitan or nonmetropolitan areas. so I used the SRDS (2003) county-area analysis and cross-referenced with either the American Factfinder or Social Explorer to confirm that the census tract was indeed in that county and not near other metro areas. and thus Downloaded from crx. First. Utah (Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News).

22 (Missouri) in the St. 2005). Meridan-Wallingford (Connecticut) Record Journal (3 cases). In this study. the media data are at Level 2 of the multilevel model. and the Wheeling (West Virginia) Intelligencer/News Register (12 cases). Camden/Cherry Hill (New Jersey) Courier Post (3 cases). The inclusiveness of each set of search terms was assessed by examining the precision of that set of search terms. Saginaw (Michigan) News (29 cases). 9 Finally. 2012 . the distribution of newspapers throughout the city varied by location. Michigan) in the Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area. White Plains (New York) Journal News (4 cases). Deal with missing data and assess deletion of cases: A number of ANES cases were excluded before content data collection began for various reasons. Three additional newspapers only provided content from the previous six months. census tract 230 in the Manchester-Nashua. One reason was that individual cases in certain census tracts did not fit in the metro or urban area. Connecticut in areas where the Connecticut Post and the Waterbury Republican American were listed as having the highest circulation. Slater. Designated market areas (DMAs) served as the contextual unit of analysis for the newspaper data. and it was deemed inefficient to include them. Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer (19 cases). so cases were assigned newspapers based upon their location in the area and the highest corresponding circulation for that area. In New York and Boston. respectively. was used as the reference for largest circulation (SRDS. 2003). which includes weekday and Sunday rates. Austin (Minnesota) Daily Herald (47 cases). given that is retrieved” Downloaded from crx.sagepub. Los Angeles Times (5 cases). These were both in New Haven. Des Moines (Iowa) Register (22 cases). The total daily circulation. Greensburg (Indiana) Daily News (47 cases). Louis MSA (6 cases). or MSA (17 cases).. Two other cases were deleted simply because they were the only cases with a given newspaper. 4.101 and 131 (Flint. and New York Newsday (15 cases). content related to the 2004 presidential campaign). Precision is an estimate of the “conditional probability that a particular text is relevant. in turn. These newspapers were the (New Jersey) Press of Atlantic City (29 cases).02 (Florida) in the Lakeland-Winter Haven MSA (9 cases). These census tracts (and the corresponding number of excluded cases) were census tracts 7. and census tract 4027. census tracts 125. Long et al. Stapel.03 and 153. the largest resource base at their disposal. Boiarsky. and the individual survey data are at Level 1. Keywords were entered into the search functions of online newspaper databases to assess which terms retrieved the most inclusive sample of content (i. so they and their corresponding cases were deleted: the Boston Globe (18 cases). a number of cases were deleted because their matching newspapers were not obtainable in available online databases.Hoffman the content in both newspapers were included for cases in those communities. NH MSA (3 cases). (2005) suggested that newspapers with the largest circulation have the largest reach and. Shreveport (Louisiana) Times (46 cases). DMAs define markets at the local level and allow researchers to examine news coverage by selecting those newspapers with the greatest circulation by area (Long.e.com at National School of Political on August 28. & Keefe.

A ratio was then computed for Kerry-to-Bush content per each media context.87.5% responded with Kerry. 2006. Yanovitzky. Postelection interviews were administered November 3 through December 20. 2012 . The area probability sample consisted of a cross section of respondents that yielded 1. p. 2005). I also tested for recall (Hornik et al. Downloaded from crx. The average recall estimate. and (c) using the “feature extraction” tool to extract words and phrases in the actual sample of content that were unidentifiable by any dictionary.. too. the 2004 ANES served as an ideal survey for the analysis because of its grouped nature. or 1. Newspaper readership was measured by one item that asked how many days in the past week the respondent read a print newspaper (M = 2.1 With the article as the unit of analysis. “Who do you think you will vote for in the election for President?” or if the respondent indicated he or she was not likely to vote. and 20. 415). The most accurate and precise search term was “Kerry or Bush and campaign. 2006) by using a more open set of search terms (e.” The average precision estimates for the term were. while 45% preferred Bush (8.1% and the postelection response rate was 88%.81). a random subset of the articles (10%. & Wray. 2006. 2004. 45. Perceived public opinion was measured by individual responses to the ANES 2004 question. (b) analyzing with Key Word in Context (KWIC) to assess whether any of these terms were included in inappropriate contexts. The political discussion item was measured by whether or not respondents “ever talk about politics with family and friends. averaged across databases and newspapers.sagepub. “election”) on the same sample. A minimum precision rate was set a priori at 80% (as exemplified in Hornik et al. 414). The preelection response rate was 66. The face-to-face preelection survey was conducted September 7 to November 1.212 face-to-face interviews in the preelection study. Krippendorf’s alphas were .g.6%. 2006). given that it is relevant” (Stryker et al.10 Communication Research XX(X) (Hornik.031 articles) was analyzed.. Recall is an estimate of the “conditional probability that a particular text will be retrieved.94 for the two “Bush” and “Kerry” dictionaries..2 Individual candidate preference was measured with.2%. through which articles applicable to the campaign are sampled. was above the a priori standard at 88.8% provided some other response).2% said they did not.. “If you were going to vote. Wordstat computerized content analysis software was used to analyze content (Provalis Research. The dictionary creation process included three stages: (a) purposefully selecting terms (such as “Bush” or “Kerry”). who do you think you would vote for in the election for President?” Kerry was preferred among 46% of respondents. p. 2004 ANES Face-to-Face Survey Employing multistage sampling. This ratio provides—in one number—a snapshot of how frequently each candidate appeared in a given newspaper.6% responded with Bush (8% provided some other response). “Which presidential candidate will carry this state?” Of all respondents. 46. In order to test that the dictionary was reliably capturing content.” More than 70% of respondents said they did. This stage essentially serves as the filter stage. and this subset was then manually coded.com at National School of Political on August 28. Stryker. SD = 2. across databases and newspapers. 84.

the pared-down sample was compared to the original data.Hoffman 11 Advertising Data The University of Wisconsin Advertising Project (2004) data were used to assess the proportion of Democratic-to-Republican advertisements aired by state.3 A variable was created that compared the number of ads supportive of the Democratic candidate (Kerry) to the number of ads supportive of the Republican candidate (Bush) in each state. since information on which viewers in which states actually viewed the advertisements was not available. All ad airings prior to September 7. no higher degree. Results Media Context Analysis A total of 10. Bryk.990 ads) and the fewest in California (1 ad). unknown. and Salt Lake City). after missing values were deleted.com at National School of Political on August 28.7%).9%). The descriptive statistics for both Level 1 and Level 2 data. are provided in Table 2.4 Table 1 shows the Kerry-toBush ratios for each media market. followed by the Washington Post (n = 1076. In order to have a logical measure of candidate-mention frequency. and ads airing only on cable were also deleted. Richmond. with the remainder including categories of combined race.9% were Black and 5.” White respondents comprised 70. as well as local adverting in the top 100 markets (University of Wisconsin Advertising Project. Roanoke. 9. 2004 were deleted from the dataset to concur with the NES data. Five media markets were removed from the data analysis because they were not available in the Wisconsin advertising data (Chicago.83) and the median response to level of education was “more than 12 years of schooling.sagepub. or refused responses. and advertising data was a final sample of 554 people and 22 newspapers. 14. The result of the matching process of the NES data.999. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette had the least amount of articles (n = 81.1% were Hispanic. 2012 . The New York Times featured the most articles (n = 1536. Lakeland.000 to US$49. 2007). The mean age of respondents in the final trimmed sample (n = 554) was 46. and there were no significant differences in either demographics or the variables of interest in the models. Median household income was US$45. 2004). This ratio can be interpreted as how many Kerry mentions there are for every one Bush mention per thousand words. Downloaded from crx. a ratio of Kerryto-Bush mentions was computed.878 articles were coded in the original 27 contextual units. using a logistic link function. Analysis As some NES cases were excluded in this process. The number of ads was also calculated from September 7 to Election Day.1%). newspaper data.72 (SD = 16. while 17. These data were collected by the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) using a system that monitors the transmissions of national broadcast and cable networks. The Level 1 (NES) and Level 2 (newspaper content and advertising) data were analyzed with HLM software (Raudenbush. & Congdon.2% of the final sample. 0. The greatest number of ads aired in Florida (63.

The dictionary creation process included three stages: (a) purposefully selecting terms (such as “Bush” or “Kerry”).34 149.19 2.74 2. Krippendorf’s alphas were .75 0.89 0.com at National School of Political on August 28.0 76.78 % Respondents Accuratec 56.85 0.99 0.2 Newspaper Arkansas Democrat Gazette Birmingham News Boston Globe Buffalo News Cleveland Plain Dealer Denver Post/Rocky Mountain News Detroit Free Press Fresno Bee Houston Chronicle Knoxville News Sentinel Manchester Union Leader Miami Herald Milwaukee Journal Sentinel New York Daily News New York Times Philadelphia Inquirer Sacramento Bee San Francisco Chronicle Seattle Times St.0 100.95 0.97 2.0 64. and (c) using the “Feature Extraction” tool to extract words and phrases in the actual sample of content that were unidentifiable by any dictionary.62 0.7 89. 2012 .7 91.78 0. only one ad was aired during the period measured.81 0.89 0.00 989.12 Communication Research XX(X) Table 1.59 2.85 0. Downloaded from crx.84 0.44 1.0 50.74 11.sagepub.33 19.61 0.78 0. Ratio of Kerry-to-Bush Mentions by Newspaper and Ratio of Democratic-toRepublican Ads Per State Kerry-toBush Ratio in Newspaper Contenta 0. Louis PostDispatch The Washington Post Worcester Telegram & Gazette a State Arkansas Alabama Massachusetts New York Ohio Colorado Michigan California Texas Tennessee New Hampshire Florida Wisconsin New York New York Pennsylvania California California Washington Missouri District of Columbia Massachusetts State winner Bush Bush Kerry Kerry Bush Bush Kerry Kerry Bush Bush Kerry Bush Kerry Kerry Kerry Kerry Kerry Kerry Kerry Bush Kerry Kerry This ratio provides a snapshot of how frequently each candidate appeared in a given newspaper. c The average percentage of respondents across all states who were correct about their state-winning candidate was 77.0 55 86.19 1.2 66.24 Democrat-toRepublican Ratio in Adsb 1.0 78.00 7.78 475.5 84.94 for the two “Bush” and “Kerry” dictionaries.81 1.94 0.0 63.00 1.9 100.7 86.77 0.9%.6 60. and represents Kerry mentions to Bush mentions.89 0.04 90.6 82.9 60. resulting in a ratio of 2 to 1 (it was a Kerry ad) because 0 cannot be included in a ratio.6 92.81 0.6 89.00 3.4 90.00 2.91 0. b As California is considered a safe state. (b) analyzing with Key Word in Context (KWIC) to assess whether any of these terms were included in inappropriate contexts.00 2.5 88.79 2.00 90.00 19.00 2.92 0.94 0.

38 SD Min Value 0 0 0 0 Min Value 0. The ISO model is essentially an explanatory model that accounts for variability across media contexts.0001. and 4 were tested with an Intercepts and Slopes as Outcomes (ISO) model. and Cudeck (2008) have suggested a step-by-step approach to multilevel modeling by first assessing a baseline model to see whether there is even variability across contextual units—in this case. media market) different from individuals in other groups.Hoffman Table 2. newspaper reading.50 0. shown in Table 3. or no differences in the outcome based upon being located in a group. Hypotheses 2. a multilevel logistic model was employed.34 Max Value 7 1 1 1 Max Value 1. 3. controlling for the other predictors. This measure reveals how similar individuals nested within one group (here.com at National School of Political on August 28. which means there is a clustering effect in these data.5 Hypothesis 1 proposed that there would be significant group-level heterogeneity in perceptions of who would win a respondent’s state.24 989. and received initial support from the chi-square test.83 0. the model tested whether media content varied across contexts. p < .00. 2002) and the dependent variable at Level 1. If the ICC had been zero.27 226. As the outcome is binary (0 = perceived Bush win.6 Following the steps proposed by Park et al. Descriptive Statistics Level 1 Descriptive Statistics Variable Newspaper use (days) Candidate preference (1 = Kerry) Perceived state-winning candidate (1 = Kerry) Political discussion (1 = yes) Level 2 descriptive statistics Variable Ratio of Kerry-to-Bush mentions Ratio of Dem-to-Rep ads Note. χ2 (21) = 146. The ICC indicated that about 42% of the variance in perceived statewinning candidate is between media markets. which includes predictors at both Levels 1 and 2 (Raudenbush & Bryk. there would be no clustering effect.56 0.50 0. 2012 . This model. and discussion habits are in the presence of contextual newspaper and advertising information on the likelihood of perceiving Kerry to win the election in one’s state. using the full potential of multilevel Downloaded from crx. (2008). assesses how powerful one’s own preferences. 13 N 429 429 429 429 J 22 22 M 3.05 0.13 86. A baseline model was estimated in order to assess the variability of the means across contextual units. J refers to the number of Level-2 units. A commonly used descriptive statistic in multilevel modeling is the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC). which illustrates group-level heterogeneity.82 M SD 2.00 0. Eveland.86 0.sagepub.77 Multilevel Model Park.61 1.51 0. 1 = perceived Kerry win).

not surprisingly. γ00   Kerry-to-Bush ratio.57 −0.00 .91* −1.00 0.77 24.45 3.00 1.14 .57 1.69 . However.97 p .17 1.73 0.27 . Results From Intercepts-and-Slopes-as-Outcomes Multilevel Logistic Model Predicting Perceived State-Winning Candidate Fixed Effects Intercept model  Intercept.sagepub. Results show that.00 1.57 35.40 .19 Coefficient 0.23 −0.08 . the odds of a Kerry supporter perceiving a Kerry win were significantly higher than for a Bush supporter.001.00 χ2 124.13 0.com at National School of Political on August 28. modeling in order to examine whether there is a significant cross-level interaction between media context and individual variables in predicting perceptions of public opinion.26 1.41 4. γ30   Kerry-to-Bush ratio. **p ≤ .24 . γ10   Kerry-to-Bush ratio. γ21   Dem-to-Rep ad ratio γ22 Political discussion model  Intercept.17 1. u1j Variance component 1. individual candidate preference was a positive and significant predictor of perceived state-winning candidate in this model (see Table 3). γ20   Kerry-to-Bush ratio.00 0.00 df 19 19 OR 1.28 .000 . the important coefficients in this model are the interaction terms between media context and the individual-level predictors.00 1.91 . *p ≤ . 2012 . we can model the variability in the regression coefficients—both intercepts (expected score of a person who is zero on all Xi) and slopes (the expected change in score with a one-unit increase in Xi)—across Level 2 units (Raudenbush & Bryk. Unit-specific results were used to interpret the multilevel logistic model.77 for candidate preference. Hypothesis 2 proposed that higher newspaper reading would interact with Downloaded from crx. to truly tap into the multilevel nature of these data. 2002). u0j Newspaper use.26 p . The odds ratio was 6. In this way.51 83.00 6.78 0.161 Note: Restricted Maximum Likelihood Estimation (REML) was used for estimates of variance components. γ01   Dem-to-Rep ad ratio γ02 Newspaper use model  Intercept. γ31   Dem-to-Rep ad ratio γ32 Random effects Intercept.77 0. All predictors entered into the models were grand-mean centered.14 1.05. which means that in looking at Bush versus Kerry supporters.048 . contingent on other variables in the model at their means.14 Communication Research XX(X) Table 3. γ11   Dem-to-Rep ad ratio γ12 Candidate preference model  Intercept.28 .42* 0.

05). A model-based graph of the cross-level interaction between media context and political discussion on perceived public opinionaThe y-axis represents the Level 1 variable measuring individuals’ likelihood of saying that Kerry would win their state. The results show that there was no significant interaction effect on perceived state-winning candidate when newspaper use increased by one unit (this was also the case for advertising data).17 (p < . and candidate preference at their average. The x-axis represents the Level 2 variable measuring the ratio of Kerry newspaper mentions in one’s media context to Bush mentions in one’s media context. such that Downloaded from crx. Hypothesis 3 predicted that media context would moderate the effect of individual candidate preference to predict perceived state-winning candidate. There was no significant cross-level interaction. newspaper use. This was. the odds of a person who discussed politics saying Kerry would win was higher than people who didn’t discuss politics. The odds ratio is 83. suggesting that. talking about politics interacted significantly with one’s media context to influence a perceived Kerry win.Hoffman 15 Figure 2. Hypothesis 2 was not supported. 2012 . As Figure 2 depicts. media context to predict perceived state-winning candidate.com at National School of Political on August 28. with a one-unit increase in Kerry-to-Bush content. when controlling for Democrat-to-Republican advertising ratio. The differentiating effect of political discussion on perceptions of public opinion increased when this contextual variable was entered into the model. Table 3 shows that the Kerry-to-Bush ratio in media context did significantly moderate the effect of political discussion on perceived state-winning candidate. the only significant cross-level interaction in the ISO model. in fact. so Hypothesis 3 was not supported. Hypothesis 4 predicted that media context would moderate the effect of political discussion on perceived public opinion.sagepub.

Yet as the ratio of Kerry-to-Bush content increased. these results suggest that there are indeed cross-level interactions between media context and individual-level predictors—in this case. political discussion—in predicting perceptions of public opinion. who is average on the other predictors in the model. The significant direct effect of candidate preference on perceived public opinion is not surprising.16. we see that interpersonal communication has long played an important role. if one adopts the idea that individuals project their own opinion onto others. Overall. a personal preference for Kerry influenced the likelihood that respondents would say Kerry would win the state.42 becomes 4. At the individual level. those people who talked about politics with family and friends were more likely to perceive Kerry as winning one’s state. Yet there is more to the puzzle than simply demonstrating that cross-level interactions exist. these results suggest that media effects were amplified for people who discussed politics and lived in a relatively Kerry-heavy media context.com at National School of Political on August 28. 4. At the very least.16 Communication Research XX(X) more Kerry content and political discussion increased the likelihood that a respondent. Discussion The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of media content on perceptions of public opinion accounting for the context of the media market in which individuals live.421/10. 2012 . We see it in early theoretical models of the Downloaded from crx. these choices are bounded by a social and geographic structure. Essentially. which did not occur in these data.sagepub. In the public opinion literature. or 1. the likelihood of saying Kerry would win increased by 54% when a person discussed politics and was average on other predictors in the model. However. the results suggest that there are significant differences between individuals in various media markets in whom they perceived to be the state-winning candidate in the 2004 presidential election. Importantly. This study also aimed to advance theoretical work on multiple levels of analysis. when in fact they were enemies” (p. above and beyond the direct effects of candidate preference and political discussion alone. such as Lippmann’s (1922) story of the islanders who “had acted as if they were friends. for respondents who discussed politics. as called for by several scholars. there is a synergy between political discussion and one’s media context to increase the likelihood of perceiving a candidate to win one’s state. because a one-unit increase in Kerry-to-Bush content translates into twice as many Kerry mentions than Bush mentions. while people may choose their discussion partners and topics. this interpretation is actually somewhat unrealistic. This “amplification” effect suggests that if interpersonal political discussion mirrors (at least in its relative emphasis on one candidate over another) one’s media context. 1) because they were relying on old news. We see it in the anecdotes. One way of obtaining a more realistic measure is to raise the odds to a fraction. such as one tenth. the likelihood of saying Kerry would win one’s state was increased when the Kerry-to-Bush ratio increased by one unit. would perceive Kerry as the winner. who conjectured that. a person becomes potentially more likely to perceive that the public will share that opinion. In this way. This can be interpreted as for every one-tenth unit increase in the ratio of Kerry-to-Bush content. These results support the work of Huckfeldt and Sprague (1995). In other words.

Although some research has demonstrated that television news generally does not contain as much campaign coverage as newspapers (e. Moreover. Mutz (1998) proposed that the mechanism driving impersonal influence is likely to be different for “citizens with differing levels of information” (p. Huge. at least. where social reality appears to have driven perceptions. suggesting that social reality does not always reflect objective reality. Thomson. The findings herein support that notion. such that citizens who talked more and had more Kerry content in their media context were more likely to be influenced in their perception of a Kerry win. 216). but these results suggest that advertising content has little to no effect on perceived public opinion. political activity. the exclusion of television. Yet many readers will recall that Bush won the 2004 election. 1) that drive so many important phenomena like voting behavior. 1992). such as Davison’s (1983) assertion that public opinion is rooted in interpersonal discussion. behavior. Yet the use of computerized content analysis allowed for the sample size to be quite large and reduced the amount of human error that is inherently involved in coding media content. resulting in real consequences for cognitions and behavior. there is certainly reason to believe that including more media sources would provide a more complete picture of a Downloaded from crx. we might conclude that political discussion—which was likely based at least in part on what was available in the media context—influenced citizens’ perceptions of who would win their state in the 2004 election. 1922. 2006. Also. p.sagepub. In the present study. Applied to the present study. Scheufele. we see the evidence that interpersonal communication drives public opinion in myriad studies. This has important implications for the study of both communication and public opinion. The present study provides further evidence for the role of interpersonal discussion in the development of public opinion. The measure of media content was admittedly conservative: a simple frequency of terms associated with either candidate.Hoffman 17 public opinion process. Glynn. The implications here are that communication—both interpersonal and mediated—can play a synergistic role in creating the “pictures in our heads” (Lippmann. radio. Scheufele & Eveland. & Huge. 2012 .. 2001). where people assume the media are powerful in influencing others. such as Hoffman. and attitudes. to examine the roles that objective and social reality play in driving individuals’ perceptions. suggesting that discussion at the individual level interacts with media content at the contextual level to fuel perceptions of social reality. Future research should examine these patterns in other election campaigns as well as in off-election times. such that people who talked about politics and lived in markets where there was relatively more Kerry coverage perceived a Kerry win. It is important to note that there were no significant effects of the ratio of Democraticto-Republican advertisements on perceived state-winning candidate. Previous research has identified advertising content as having an influence on interest. advertising was more “noise” than effect on who respondents thought would win the election in their state. or other local media inherently limits our understanding of these media contexts.g. These results point to a truly perceptual effect. and opinion incongruity (Hayes. These results also support Mutz’s (1998) theory of impersonal influence. & Seitman’s (2007) finding that interpersonal discussion was one of the “filters” that influenced perceived public opinion in the case of a community issue. Bernstein & Lacy.com at National School of Political on August 28.

Funding The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research. Of articles retrieved. Only 12 media markets included in the newspaper data were available in the top 100 markets selected by the Wisconsin Advertising Project. These results suggest that locationally biased information can indeed lead to differential effects among voters. Including a measure of valence would also shed light on these results. so state data were used instead of market data. There are clearly other sources of information and types of media content that might add both power and depth to the present analyses. and the University of Wisconsin. authorship. Notes 1.7 The measure for political discussion is also a simple one. the University of Michigan. When dealing with a phenomenon such as public opinion.com at National School of Political on August 28. it is essential to examine potential combinations of processes of influence. Perhaps. 2. The methods used in the present study. authorship. These means and percentages reflect the entire sample and the descriptive for the reduced sample is given in Table 2. in alphabetical order. and/or publication of this article: These materials are based on work supported by. Downloaded from crx. 10% were sampled. Orbell. Declaration of Conflicting Interests The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research. although they have limitations. it is necessary to account for multiple levels of influence. that is transitory and bound up with place and time (Noelle-Neumann. provide some framework for examining these effects within and across levels of analysis. 1970) argue that there are several mechanisms by which people obtain political information beyond social interaction and the media. Although we know that the media do influence perceptions of public opinion.sagepub. findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these materials are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding organizations. the National Science Foundation under grant SES-0118451. the tone in which candidates were covered played an important role in the perceived likelihood of winning.and contextual-level effects on both cognitions and behaviors. In addition.. suggesting that there is still some variance among media markets in the perceived state-winning candidate that has not been accounted for by these Level 1 and Level 2 predictors.g. Finally. Any opinions. some scholars (e. NES simply asked respondents whether they talked to family or friends about politics. and/or publication of this article. Future research could examine the role of agreement or disagreement in conversations and the subsequent effects on perception.18 Communication Research XX(X) given media context. 3. 1993). Inclusion and exclusion terms available from the author. Future research should examine valence to see if it plays a significant moderating role in these relationships. the variance component for the intercept in the bottom of Table 3 is significant. and scholars are encouraged to use such methods to unravel individual. Much research has found that the level of agreement or disagreement in those conversations can have tremendous effects on perceptions. 2012 .

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