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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
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: email@example.com
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For many political issues. 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. 1998) and social projection (Mullen et al. Gunther & Storey. & McDonald. Representations of public opinion have been found to influence individuals’ perceptions of public opinion. Mutz & Soss. Ostman. 253). and misperceptions. As much of the work on perceptions originated in the fields of psychology and social psychology. 2012 . However. 1998). providing the raw material for individuals to understand the opinion climate around them. Mutz. the perceptions individuals have of social reality can influence their behavior. assessment or sense of relevant others’ opinions” (Glynn. individual perceptions are influenced by other mechanisms as well. some polls showed Bush and Kerry in a dead heat. The accuracy of these perceptions. But.. 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. the primary impetus for research has been discovering cognitive mechanisms that produce perceptions.” impacting social perceptions of an issue (Mutz. “perceptions can have a self-fulfilling effect on the realization of communication goals” (p. 2003. 1995). Much research has demonstrated that media use and content have effects on perceived public opinion and social reality (Christen & Gunther. p. By examining the influence of perceptions of public opinion in a multilevel context. 1998. Rhodebeck. Christen & Gunther. 2000. the research demonstrates more nuanced effects of traditional indicators. such as political discussion. 1995. media consumers will receive different information about which candidate is ahead and which is behind. 1995. research has demonstrated that media have an “impersonal influence. Daschmann.2 Communication Research XX(X) political campaign. in the 2004 U. 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. 1989). 2005).. 1995. Gunther.” Gunther and Storey (2003) concluded. 2003. ultimately influencing what we know and how we know it (McLeod et al.. media serve as the primary source of information (Books & Prysby. For example. 1997). of social reality. 1995. For instance. As such. namely media contexts.com at National School of Political on August 28. on perceptions of public opinion. is arguably not as relevant as answering the question: Do these Downloaded from crx. then. Huckfeldt & Sprague. we are at risk of perhaps missing the bigger picture. 73) by which individuals understand the social and political world. 1995. regardless of whether they are accurate. Depending on the sampling of public opinion polls and how close the race is. 2003. Mutz. 1989.sagepub. where both news coverage and actual climate of opinion may vary. at least in part. which can be defined as an individual’s “awareness. others revealed Bush as the winner. 213). presidential election. and still others predicted Kerry would win (Patterson. adding to existing theoretical work on the impersonal influence (Mutz. 1998. 1985). p.S. on their location. The Influence of Individual Media Use on Public Opinion Perceptions Media operate as “epistemological devices” (McLeod et al. 1991. What has not been explored is whether these perceptions might differ by contexts like media markets. “Whether they are accurate or not.
Tichenor. 1990). this influences how well a candidate does in a particular location (e. Although definitions vary. 1998. 2004. Goldenberg. McCombs & Reynolds. 3).” which are structurally imposed.sagepub. transform over time as a result of political communication between elites. Huckfeldt & Sprague. and individuals. 1980). We also know that at the individual level. Shaw. research has connected survey data with content analyses to demonstrate that beyond individual characteristics. The Influence of Media Context on Public Opinion Perceptions Many of the conceptualizations of “context” have their origins in political science. This flow of information serves as a primary mechanism for contextual effects. we might also be able to assess whether those perceptions influence political behavior. or states—is what differentiates it from nongeographic “networks” such as families. 1995) offer perhaps the most exhaustive and mutually exclusive account of the dimensions of context. 1984. at the aggregate level. Huckfeldt Downloaded from crx. from “contexts. Donohue. Beck. campaign effects can be traced to changes in political communication—or the flow of information between actors—over time. 1991.. Their definition is rooted in the primitive meaning of the term: “a geographically bounded unit” (Books & Prysby. But what is a media context? Context itself has been defined in numerous ways across multiple disciplines. the media. 2012 . in addition to providing a succinct definition. 1991. is a geographically bounded unit that is defined by the media that are specific to that unit. The boundary of this unit—often specified as neighborhoods. in particular. Huckfeldt and Sprague (1995) differentiated “networks.. Orbell.Hoffman 3 perceptions vary by information context? If these perceptions vary when the actual content to which individuals are exposed varies. Dalton. & Henry. 1995. 1987.g. A media context. media have the potential to set the public agenda (e. then. Books and Prysby (1991. 1995. 2006. 1983).g. instead of examining individual and contextual variables in concert. see also Weatherford.” which are individually structured. research has demonstrated that campaign strategies vary significantly by location and. When it comes to election campaigns. Iyengar & Kinder. clubs. and interest groups. media influences cognitions like political efficacy and trust (Miller. communities. Linking Individual. Alford.g. Campbell. 2. Shaw. & Olien. 1980). 2006. Also. & Huckfeldt. 1979) and candidate name recognition (Goldenberg & Traugott. Goldstein. Shah. Feldman & Price. Ridout. p. In this way. and the information therein. & Erbring.com at National School of Political on August 28. Books and Prysby were specifically interested in “local context. 2008. and some seminal work has demonstrated such effects (e. Yet what is missing from many of these studies is attention to cross-level influences. 1970. 2002)..and Contextual-Level Influences As individuals obtain information about presidential campaigns primarily through media or interpersonal discussions (Books & Prysby.” which they conceptualized as “areally defined groups of people” (p. These campaigns. many scholars simply assume some sort of flow from media content to the public without clearly examining the mechanisms of that information flow. Stewart & Reynolds. & Franz.
if one’s environment—that is. Srull & Wyer. and Shaw (2004) aggregated voter turnout in neighborhoods to assess homogeneity of party identification. 1997). an individual might presume that this represents the opinion in his or her community. Roskos-Ewoldsen. To further theorize how these individual-level processes might be influenced by context. These determinants lead to judgments of set size and probability. 2002). 1980). Donohue. it is only recently that the methods to Downloaded from crx. & Carpentier. 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. Moreover. which influences the information that becomes a part of that small subset of available information” (p. what one “knows” about his or her reality can vary depending on what is perceived in the media. the effects of media might also vary by context..4 Communication Research XX(X) & Sprague. Mutz. 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. & Olien.com at National School of Political on August 28. concluding that Republicans vote more. The knowledge activated by the media that is judged to be applicable to the current situation (e. 1987). and heuristics serve as a less cognitively straining form of retrieving information (Price & Tewksbury. An underlying assumption of this model is that people are cognitive misers.. 74). why might we expect to see different effects for individuals in varying contexts? Theoretically.and contextual-level data. 2012 . Yet much of the research has tended to aggregate individual-level information to create contextual data. which purports that information is stored in nodes that are connected by associative pathways. and that this is reality. Tichenor. 1995. the media context—emphasizes one candidate over another. when answering a survey question about who will win an election) influences how that information is interpreted (Roskos-Ewoldsen. suggesting that one might interpret. Shrum. Dyck. 2002.sagepub. & Carpentier. As Shrum (2002) noted. As such. RoskosEwoldsen. 1979). 1989). But. we might look to the associative network model of memory (Roskos-Ewoldsen. “media consumption enhances accessibility. but vote significantly less when more Democrats are in their local surroundings. Although communication research has long acknowledged the effects of community-level influences on personal behaviors and attitudes (e. it is important to assess the nature of that media content. Thinking Multilevel Research has tended to see media as having fixed and unvarying relationships with individuals across space (McLeod & Blumler.g. and (c) make interpretations based on the way they have processed this information when called upon to make decisions about related issues or topics. Gimpel. 2002). This study examines effects on perceptions of public opinion using both individual. two methods for information processing may provide some idea as to why individuals in different contexts might interpret information differently: accessibility and applicability. In this sense. The process by which media can affect audience evaluations is sometimes referred to as knowledge activation (Price & Tewksbury. For example. which varies by context. 1996. how many people in one’s state support a candidate based on the information they obtain through the media. for example. 1997).g.
such as perceptions of public opinion. Downloaded from crx.g. But.sagepub. 2002). 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. and therefore its effects on perceived public opinion will vary. Hypothesis 1 (H1): There will be significant group-level heterogeneity among media contexts in perceived public opinion. In other words. missing data.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. Also. then we must first establish that the perceptions of public opinion vary significantly across different media contexts. 1998. Contextual effects do indeed vary by individual characteristics and predispositions. Acknowledging the inherently multilevel nature of the present phenomenon. ultimately increasing explanatory power (Jerit. multilevel modeling is an appropriate method because it is more flexible than other methods in handing unbalanced groups. 1980. 2006). Multilevel models also allow researchers to examine cross-level interactions to determine whether the effects vary across levels of analysis (Steenbergen & Jones. and analyzing models with multiple variables at each level (Slater et al. 2012 . 2006).. 1989. I first propose a baseline prediction based on the assumption that the frequency of candidate mentions will differ across media markets. See Figure 1 for a graphical representation of the proposed cross-level relationships. Barabas. by including contextual data in the analysis. 2006). 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. Huckfeldt & Sprague. Gunther. & Hayes. As many media effects. 2006). 1998).. & Bolsen.. it is possible to account for greater variation in this outcome variable. Snyder.com at National School of Political on August 28. it becomes even more essential to include multiple levels of influence. if contextual differences are to be found. Mutz. 1995). and such effects can only be asserted when individual behavior depends on an external factor after individual-level determinants are taken into account (Huckfeldt.
because such interaction is more likely among those individuals nearer to each other in location.g. simply. so I propose a nondirectional hypothesis: Hypothesis 3 (H3): Media context will significantly moderate the effect of individual candidate preference on perceived public opinion. However. 2000). and the more that newspaper mentions Candidate A over Candidate B. because people tend to see media coverage as mirroring public opinion (Gunther. 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. if a person prefers Candidate A. 1995) and media context moderates this effect (e. 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.com at National School of Political on August 28. it is hypothesized to have a variable effect on perceptions of public opinion. Liebhart.6 Communication Research XX(X) Media content serves as the contextual (or Level 2) measure here. Research has demonstrated that projection and media effects are likely to interact in predicting perceptions of public opinion (Shamir & Shamir. 2012 . it is uncertain which direction this effect will follow. Gunther & Christen. Freedman. 2006). In other words. Christen. This is rooted in the theories of information processing outlined above. & Goldstein..g. 2004). the more readily accessible that information will be when called upon. The question driving the next hypothesis is. Huckfeldt & Sprague. when asked to describe others. Hypothesis 2 (H2): Media context will moderate the effect of newspaper reading on perceived public opinion. Franz. such that people presume others to have the same opinions as themselves.. 2001. which suggest that the more frequently and recently a person receives information. but there is more content in his media market about Candidate B. & Chia. However. The measure of Kerry-to-Bush mentions provides a snapshot of the media environment during the presidential campaign. what role do personal opinions play in influencing perceptions when we look at the actual media context? When taking media context into account.. Interpersonal discussion about politics can also influence perceptions of public opinion (e. 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. and is operationalized by a measure of the ratio of Kerry-to-Bush candidate references in regional newspapers. Social interaction Downloaded from crx.sagepub. This social projection hypothesis suggests that perceptions of public opinion will rely mostly on personal opinions. the more likely that respondent might be to say that Candidate A is likely to win his or her state. Huckfeldt (1986) and Huckfeldt and Sprague (1995) suggest that social interaction is a key mechanism for contextual effects. As variation in media attention affects political knowledge (Jerit et al. 2002). Yet the media environment is also likely to influence these perceptions. will projection effects persist? It is possible that the “reality” of one’s media context might diminish the effects of social projection. the more an individual uses the newspaper. individuals often simply refer to their own self-reactions (Robbins & Krueger. 2005).
What will be the media effects. thus serving as the fodder for political discussion. Brians & Wattenberg. Match respondent’s PSU to media context: First. Hypothesis 4 (H4): Media context will significantly moderate the effect of political discussion on perceived public opinion. 2004). Hagen.. 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. Individuals obtain politically relevant information from their surroundings and this information is naturally locationally biased (Burbank. above and beyond advertising? Research has demonstrated that exposure to campaign advertising can increase interest. Therefore. 2004. knowledge. The process of matching newspapers to individual cases from the ANES data file was as follows: 1. 1997). 2004. discussion. Method This study used three sources of data: (a) newspaper content related to the 2004 presidential campaign from August 24 to November 1. However. Newspaper Content Analysis A matching process was undertaken to match individual cases from the ANES data file with newspapers in their geographic area. the proliferation of advertising in a media market is likely to influence perceptions of who will win an election. and vote intentions (e. In other words. during which number of cases were systematically removed from analysis because they did not match the geographic data. 2012 . & Jamieson. Ridout et al. 1979).Hoffman 7 is only one of several mechanisms through which context affects individuals (Books & Prysby. media can provide information that is in many ways dependent on and reflective of geographic location. Johnston. upon obtaining information about the primary sampling unit (PSU) for each individual respondent in the ANES 2004 survey file. 1996. voting likelihood. I cross-referenced that metro area with information Downloaded from crx.sagepub. 2004. a ratio of Democratic-to-Republican favored ads will also be included in these models. Franz. in addition to media content. Freedman. The analyses will also control for political advertising because.g. 2004. Zhao & Chaffee. examining these effects in a multilevel model is an intuitive way to add depth to this line of research..com at National School of Political on August 28. and (c) advertising data from the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project (2004). 1991. but it is the dominant framework in the literature on contextual effects. (b) a survey of Americans during this campaign (American National Election Studies [ANES]. It is hypothesized that media context will moderate the effect of social interaction on perceptions in much the same way as H2. 1995). Erbring & Young. & Goldstein. or the geographic locale did not include electronically accessible newspapers.
3. If the area was rural. and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Seattle Times. I also checked the SRDS (2003) for adjacent counties if census tracts bordered other counties.S. Salt Lake City. 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. it was included. it was also included. 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. 2003).S. ANES data were collected by county. If that area was not included in the list of metro areas. such that content from both newspapers was included in the media context matching that respondent. city. 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. and Boston/Worcester (Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette). 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). In order to maintain a reasonable amount of content while also representing the content in those areas.com at National School of Political on August 28. Census.sagepub. both newspapers were listed as having relatively equal rates of circulation. one newspaper from each company was randomly selected to include in the sample. 2012 . These newspapers were the Detroit Free Press and the Seattle Times. The urban area classification is a collective term that cuts across other hierarchies and can be in metropolitan or nonmetropolitan areas.8 Communication Research XX(X) obtained from the Standard Rate and Data Service (SRDS. 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. The decision factor was whether the census tract was in either the “urban area” or “place” as specified by the U. New York (New York Times and New York Daily News). Four other communities included more than one newspaper that were not run by the same company. because Social Explorer’s maps permit zooming and also have cloropleth functionality. I looked up the county in which the area was located. the U. Census 2000 Factfinder (U. For both Denver and Salt Lake City. for each individual census tract. This followed the same procedure as if a media market had competing newspapers. 2000). I used the U. These were Denver (Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News). or village—or identified as a “Census Designated Place” (U. Census that matched the PSU given by ANES. Census Factfinder “geo within geo” selection category was used in order to select states.S. I used Social Explorer (2006) to confirm. Census.S.S. which can indicate areas of greater population density such as metro areas. The “place” is a concentration of population either legally bounded as an incorporated place—which have legal descriptions of borough. If the census tract included pieces of either the urban area or place. town. First. 2. Utah (Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News). Then. If it was unclear from Factfinder whether the census tract should be included. 2000) and Social Explorer (2006) to map whether that census tract was indeed included in the metro area specified by the PSU.
Greensburg (Indiana) Daily News (47 cases). 4. These were both in New Haven. and census tract 4027. Designated market areas (DMAs) served as the contextual unit of analysis for the newspaper data. which includes weekday and Sunday rates. Two other cases were deleted simply because they were the only cases with a given newspaper. the distribution of newspapers throughout the city varied by location. Keywords were entered into the search functions of online newspaper databases to assess which terms retrieved the most inclusive sample of content (i. Austin (Minnesota) Daily Herald (47 cases). Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer (19 cases).03 and 153. Louis MSA (6 cases).22 (Missouri) in the St. These newspapers were the (New Jersey) Press of Atlantic City (29 cases). Meridan-Wallingford (Connecticut) Record Journal (3 cases). The inclusiveness of each set of search terms was assessed by examining the precision of that set of search terms. content related to the 2004 presidential campaign). Long et al.e. 2012 . the largest resource base at their disposal. or MSA (17 cases).com at National School of Political on August 28. The total daily circulation. was used as the reference for largest circulation (SRDS. 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. White Plains (New York) Journal News (4 cases). Precision is an estimate of the “conditional probability that a particular text is relevant. Michigan) in the Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area. the media data are at Level 2 of the multilevel model. In New York and Boston.101 and 131 (Flint. so they and their corresponding cases were deleted: the Boston Globe (18 cases). 2003). & Keefe. 2005). in turn. and the Wheeling (West Virginia) Intelligencer/News Register (12 cases). Shreveport (Louisiana) Times (46 cases). census tracts 125. and it was deemed inefficient to include them.02 (Florida) in the Lakeland-Winter Haven MSA (9 cases). Boiarsky. given that is retrieved” Downloaded from crx. Slater. Three additional newspapers only provided content from the previous six months.Hoffman the content in both newspapers were included for cases in those communities. and the individual survey data are at Level 1. Des Moines (Iowa) Register (22 cases). Camden/Cherry Hill (New Jersey) Courier Post (3 cases). 9 Finally. and New York Newsday (15 cases).sagepub. One reason was that individual cases in certain census tracts did not fit in the metro or urban area. respectively. so cases were assigned newspapers based upon their location in the area and the highest corresponding circulation for that area. Deal with missing data and assess deletion of cases: A number of ANES cases were excluded before content data collection began for various reasons. In this study. (2005) suggested that newspapers with the largest circulation have the largest reach and. Stapel. census tract 230 in the Manchester-Nashua. Saginaw (Michigan) News (29 cases). Los Angeles Times (5 cases). a number of cases were deleted because their matching newspapers were not obtainable in available online databases.. These census tracts (and the corresponding number of excluded cases) were census tracts 7. NH MSA (3 cases). Connecticut in areas where the Connecticut Post and the Waterbury Republican American were listed as having the highest circulation.
The most accurate and precise search term was “Kerry or Bush and campaign.com at National School of Political on August 28. “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. The average recall estimate. Yanovitzky. “Which presidential candidate will carry this state?” Of all respondents.6%.1% and the postelection response rate was 88%. 84. A minimum precision rate was set a priori at 80% (as exemplified in Hornik et al. 45. 2006.2%. p. across databases and newspapers.g. 2012 . This stage essentially serves as the filter stage. A ratio was then computed for Kerry-to-Bush content per each media context.6% responded with Bush (8% provided some other response). The political discussion item was measured by whether or not respondents “ever talk about politics with family and friends. and 20. Downloaded from crx. while 45% preferred Bush (8. p. “election”) on the same sample. too. or 1. In order to test that the dictionary was reliably capturing content.” The average precision estimates for the term were.” More than 70% of respondents said they did.94 for the two “Bush” and “Kerry” dictionaries. 46. “If you were going to vote.8% provided some other response)..1 With the article as the unit of analysis.5% responded with Kerry.10 Communication Research XX(X) (Hornik. a random subset of the articles (10%. I also tested for recall (Hornik et al. 2006).87. Newspaper readership was measured by one item that asked how many days in the past week the respondent read a print newspaper (M = 2. through which articles applicable to the campaign are sampled. 415). & Wray. 414).. Stryker. 2004. 2005). The face-to-face preelection survey was conducted September 7 to November 1. The dictionary creation process included three stages: (a) purposefully selecting terms (such as “Bush” or “Kerry”). Krippendorf’s alphas were . Recall is an estimate of the “conditional probability that a particular text will be retrieved. SD = 2. and (c) using the “feature extraction” tool to extract words and phrases in the actual sample of content that were unidentifiable by any dictionary. 2004 ANES Face-to-Face Survey Employing multistage sampling. and this subset was then manually coded. 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. given that it is relevant” (Stryker et al. This ratio provides—in one number—a snapshot of how frequently each candidate appeared in a given newspaper.81). was above the a priori standard at 88.2 Individual candidate preference was measured with..sagepub.2% said they did not. The preelection response rate was 66. who do you think you would vote for in the election for President?” Kerry was preferred among 46% of respondents.031 articles) was analyzed. averaged across databases and newspapers. the 2004 ANES served as an ideal survey for the analysis because of its grouped nature. 2006.212 face-to-face interviews in the preelection study. Wordstat computerized content analysis software was used to analyze content (Provalis Research. Postelection interviews were administered November 3 through December 20. The area probability sample consisted of a cross section of respondents that yielded 1. 2006) by using a more open set of search terms (e..
Five media markets were removed from the data analysis because they were not available in the Wisconsin advertising data (Chicago. 0. Results Media Context Analysis A total of 10. as well as local adverting in the top 100 markets (University of Wisconsin Advertising Project. the pared-down sample was compared to the original data.9%).1%).” White respondents comprised 70. with the remainder including categories of combined race. and there were no significant differences in either demographics or the variables of interest in the models. 2004). 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 number of ads was also calculated from September 7 to Election Day.2% of the final sample.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. In order to have a logical measure of candidate-mention frequency. Roanoke. All ad airings prior to September 7. since information on which viewers in which states actually viewed the advertisements was not available. after missing values were deleted. The greatest number of ads aired in Florida (63. Richmond. 2007).878 articles were coded in the original 27 contextual units. using a logistic link function.sagepub.999.7%).4 Table 1 shows the Kerry-toBush ratios for each media market. This ratio can be interpreted as how many Kerry mentions there are for every one Bush mention per thousand words. Median household income was US$45. and ads airing only on cable were also deleted. or refused responses.83) and the median response to level of education was “more than 12 years of schooling. while 17.990 ads) and the fewest in California (1 ad). & Congdon. Downloaded from crx.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. unknown. are provided in Table 2.9% were Black and 5. 14. The result of the matching process of the NES data.com at National School of Political on August 28. The New York Times featured the most articles (n = 1536.72 (SD = 16. The mean age of respondents in the final trimmed sample (n = 554) was 46. no higher degree. Lakeland. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette had the least amount of articles (n = 81. The descriptive statistics for both Level 1 and Level 2 data. and Salt Lake City).000 to US$49. The Level 1 (NES) and Level 2 (newspaper content and advertising) data were analyzed with HLM software (Raudenbush. 9. Bryk. Analysis As some NES cases were excluded in this process. 2012 . 2004 were deleted from the dataset to concur with the NES data. newspaper data.1% were Hispanic. followed by the Washington Post (n = 1076. a ratio of Kerryto-Bush mentions was computed. and advertising data was a final sample of 554 people and 22 newspapers.
2012 .7 86.99 0.00 989.00 3.com at National School of Political on August 28.00 2.00 90.00 19. 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.97 2.7 89.2 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.81 0.12 Communication Research XX(X) Table 1.89 0.0 76.89 0.00 7.33 19. Krippendorf’s alphas were .75 0.85 0.77 0.92 0. c The average percentage of respondents across all states who were correct about their state-winning candidate was 77. Ratio of Kerry-to-Bush Mentions by Newspaper and Ratio of Democratic-toRepublican Ads Per State Kerry-toBush Ratio in Newspaper Contenta 0.04 90.00 1.6 89. and (c) using the “Feature Extraction” tool to extract words and phrases in the actual sample of content that were unidentifiable by any dictionary. only one ad was aired during the period measured. resulting in a ratio of 2 to 1 (it was a Kerry ad) because 0 cannot be included in a ratio.78 % Respondents Accuratec 56.4 90.2 66. Downloaded from crx.78 475.0 55 86.7 91.59 2.9%.00 2.78 0.0 50.9 60.sagepub.61 0.62 0.6 82.0 78.91 0.00 2. (b) analyzing with Key Word in Context (KWIC) to assess whether any of these terms were included in inappropriate contexts.24 Democrat-toRepublican Ratio in Adsb 1.78 0. and represents Kerry mentions to Bush mentions.81 1.85 0.44 1.6 92.95 0.6 60.79 2.94 0.0 100.5 88.34 149.0 64.94 for the two “Bush” and “Kerry” dictionaries.81 0.19 2.9 100.19 1. The dictionary creation process included three stages: (a) purposefully selecting terms (such as “Bush” or “Kerry”).5 84.74 11.0 63.89 0. b As California is considered a safe state.74 2.94 0.84 0.
controlling for the other predictors. p < .50 0. 2012 .86 0.83 0. a multilevel logistic model was employed.50 0. shown in Table 3.sagepub. Eveland.34 Max Value 7 1 1 1 Max Value 1.13 86.38 SD Min Value 0 0 0 0 Min Value 0.Hoffman Table 2.com at National School of Political on August 28. A commonly used descriptive statistic in multilevel modeling is the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC). assesses how powerful one’s own preferences. This model.6 Following the steps proposed by Park et al. 1 = perceived Kerry win).77 Multilevel Model Park. which illustrates group-level heterogeneity.51 0. If the ICC had been zero. 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. and 4 were tested with an Intercepts and Slopes as Outcomes (ISO) model. or no differences in the outcome based upon being located in a group. A baseline model was estimated in order to assess the variability of the means across contextual units. 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.27 226. (2008). 2002) and the dependent variable at Level 1.5 Hypothesis 1 proposed that there would be significant group-level heterogeneity in perceptions of who would win a respondent’s state.61 1. As the outcome is binary (0 = perceived Bush win.0001. the model tested whether media content varied across contexts. J refers to the number of Level-2 units.82 M SD 2. Hypotheses 2. 3. The ISO model is essentially an explanatory model that accounts for variability across media contexts. media market) different from individuals in other groups. and received initial support from the chi-square test.00. The ICC indicated that about 42% of the variance in perceived statewinning candidate is between media markets. newspaper reading. which includes predictors at both Levels 1 and 2 (Raudenbush & Bryk. there would be no clustering effect.00 0. 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.24 989. This measure reveals how similar individuals nested within one group (here.56 0.05 0. 13 N 429 429 429 429 J 22 22 M 3. which means there is a clustering effect in these data. χ2 (21) = 146. using the full potential of multilevel Downloaded from crx.
73 0.sagepub.17 1.17 1. Hypothesis 2 proposed that higher newspaper reading would interact with Downloaded from crx.91* −1. γ11 Dem-to-Rep ad ratio γ12 Candidate preference model Intercept. 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.00 1.com at National School of Political on August 28.19 Coefficient 0. γ21 Dem-to-Rep ad ratio γ22 Political discussion model Intercept. the important coefficients in this model are the interaction terms between media context and the individual-level predictors.05. 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. 2002).91 . Results show that. 2012 .00 .57 1.23 −0.00 0.77 for candidate preference.51 83.26 p .77 24.27 .161 Note: Restricted Maximum Likelihood Estimation (REML) was used for estimates of variance components.97 p .24 .048 .26 1. γ20 Kerry-to-Bush ratio.14 Communication Research XX(X) Table 3. However. contingent on other variables in the model at their means.08 .00 1.41 4.77 0.001.78 0.000 .00 0. to truly tap into the multilevel nature of these data. γ31 Dem-to-Rep ad ratio γ32 Random effects Intercept.57 −0.57 35.00 df 19 19 OR 1. u0j Newspaper use.14 1. which means that in looking at Bush versus Kerry supporters. γ10 Kerry-to-Bush ratio. Results From Intercepts-and-Slopes-as-Outcomes Multilevel Logistic Model Predicting Perceived State-Winning Candidate Fixed Effects Intercept model Intercept. Unit-specific results were used to interpret the multilevel logistic model. γ01 Dem-to-Rep ad ratio γ02 Newspaper use model Intercept.45 3. *p ≤ . **p ≤ .28 .13 0. individual candidate preference was a positive and significant predictor of perceived state-winning candidate in this model (see Table 3). not surprisingly.00 χ2 124. In this way. u1j Variance component 1.14 .40 .28 .00 1.00 6.42* 0. the odds of a Kerry supporter perceiving a Kerry win were significantly higher than for a Bush supporter.69 . All predictors entered into the models were grand-mean centered. γ00 Kerry-to-Bush ratio. γ30 Kerry-to-Bush ratio. The odds ratio was 6.
media context to predict perceived state-winning candidate. As Figure 2 depicts. with a one-unit increase in Kerry-to-Bush content. Hypothesis 2 was not supported. talking about politics interacted significantly with one’s media context to influence a perceived Kerry win. Hypothesis 4 predicted that media context would moderate the effect of political discussion on perceived public opinion. the only significant cross-level interaction in the ISO model. so Hypothesis 3 was not supported. and candidate preference at their average. This was.com at National School of Political on August 28. 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 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). 2012 .Hoffman 15 Figure 2. newspaper use.17 (p < . There was no significant cross-level interaction. the odds of a person who discussed politics saying Kerry would win was higher than people who didn’t discuss politics. 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. 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. 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. suggesting that. in fact.sagepub. The odds ratio is 83. The differentiating effect of political discussion on perceptions of public opinion increased when this contextual variable was entered into the model. when controlling for Democrat-to-Republican advertising ratio.05).
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. In other words. which did not occur in these data. we see that interpersonal communication has long played an important role. would perceive Kerry as the winner. Essentially. We see it in the anecdotes. Yet as the ratio of Kerry-to-Bush content increased.16. these results suggest that there are indeed cross-level interactions between media context and individual-level predictors—in this case. these results suggest that media effects were amplified for people who discussed politics and lived in a relatively Kerry-heavy media context. such as one tenth. because a one-unit increase in Kerry-to-Bush content translates into twice as many Kerry mentions than Bush mentions. We see it in early theoretical models of the Downloaded from crx. This can be interpreted as for every one-tenth unit increase in the ratio of Kerry-to-Bush content. At the very least. Yet there is more to the puzzle than simply demonstrating that cross-level interactions exist. the likelihood of saying Kerry would win increased by 54% when a person discussed politics and was average on other predictors in the model. Overall. These results support the work of Huckfeldt and Sprague (1995). above and beyond the direct effects of candidate preference and political discussion alone. while people may choose their discussion partners and topics. who conjectured that. this interpretation is actually somewhat unrealistic. One way of obtaining a more realistic measure is to raise the odds to a fraction. a personal preference for Kerry influenced the likelihood that respondents would say Kerry would win the state. 2012 . 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. 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. Importantly. such as Lippmann’s (1922) story of the islanders who “had acted as if they were friends. for respondents who discussed politics. when in fact they were enemies” (p. The significant direct effect of candidate preference on perceived public opinion is not surprising.42 becomes 4.16 Communication Research XX(X) more Kerry content and political discussion increased the likelihood that a respondent. who is average on the other predictors in the model. these choices are bounded by a social and geographic structure. However.421/10. a person becomes potentially more likely to perceive that the public will share that opinion. as called for by several scholars. This study also aimed to advance theoretical work on multiple levels of analysis. if one adopts the idea that individuals project their own opinion onto others. 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.sagepub. At the individual level. In the public opinion literature.com at National School of Political on August 28. the likelihood of saying Kerry would win one’s state was increased when the Kerry-to-Bush ratio increased by one unit. political discussion—in predicting perceptions of public opinion. or 1. 4. 1) because they were relying on old news. In this way. those people who talked about politics with family and friends were more likely to perceive Kerry as winning one’s state.
Mutz (1998) proposed that the mechanism driving impersonal influence is likely to be different for “citizens with differing levels of information” (p. 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. 1) that drive so many important phenomena like voting behavior. It is important to note that there were no significant effects of the ratio of Democraticto-Republican advertisements on perceived state-winning candidate. & Huge. 1922. Applied to the present study. Scheufele. Glynn. suggesting that social reality does not always reflect objective reality. Huge. political activity. 2006. to examine the roles that objective and social reality play in driving individuals’ perceptions. & Seitman’s (2007) finding that interpersonal discussion was one of the “filters” that influenced perceived public opinion in the case of a community issue. where people assume the media are powerful in influencing others. The measure of media content was admittedly conservative: a simple frequency of terms associated with either candidate. These results also support Mutz’s (1998) theory of impersonal influence. Thomson. such that people who talked about politics and lived in markets where there was relatively more Kerry coverage perceived a Kerry win. Moreover. Previous research has identified advertising content as having an influence on interest. Future research should examine these patterns in other election campaigns as well as in off-election times. suggesting that discussion at the individual level interacts with media content at the contextual level to fuel perceptions of social reality. The present study provides further evidence for the role of interpersonal discussion in the development of public opinion. advertising was more “noise” than effect on who respondents thought would win the election in their state. and opinion incongruity (Hayes. Yet many readers will recall that Bush won the 2004 election.. 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.sagepub. or other local media inherently limits our understanding of these media contexts. Scheufele & Eveland. Also. such as Davison’s (1983) assertion that public opinion is rooted in interpersonal discussion. p. such as Hoffman.g. there is certainly reason to believe that including more media sources would provide a more complete picture of a Downloaded from crx. resulting in real consequences for cognitions and behavior. 2012 . These results point to a truly perceptual effect.com at National School of Political on August 28. 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. we see the evidence that interpersonal communication drives public opinion in myriad studies. the exclusion of television. Bernstein & Lacy. radio. Although some research has demonstrated that television news generally does not contain as much campaign coverage as newspapers (e. 2001). In the present study. The implications here are that communication—both interpersonal and mediated—can play a synergistic role in creating the “pictures in our heads” (Lippmann. but these results suggest that advertising content has little to no effect on perceived public opinion. behavior. where social reality appears to have driven perceptions. The findings herein support that notion. and attitudes. 1992). This has important implications for the study of both communication and public opinion. 216). at least.Hoffman 17 public opinion process.
These results suggest that locationally biased information can indeed lead to differential effects among voters. so state data were used instead of market data. Inclusion and exclusion terms available from the author. Of articles retrieved. There are clearly other sources of information and types of media content that might add both power and depth to the present analyses. 3. 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. 10% were sampled. in alphabetical order. The methods used in the present study. These means and percentages reflect the entire sample and the descriptive for the reduced sample is given in Table 2.7 The measure for political discussion is also a simple one. authorship. 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. the National Science Foundation under grant SES-0118451.18 Communication Research XX(X) given media context. the University of Michigan. although they have limitations. it is necessary to account for multiple levels of influence. Orbell. provide some framework for examining these effects within and across levels of analysis. 2012 . Future research could examine the role of agreement or disagreement in conversations and the subsequent effects on perception. 1970) argue that there are several mechanisms by which people obtain political information beyond social interaction and the media. and the University of Wisconsin. Notes 1. Only 12 media markets included in the newspaper data were available in the top 100 markets selected by the Wisconsin Advertising Project. and/or publication of this article. 1993). the tone in which candidates were covered played an important role in the perceived likelihood of winning. some scholars (e. authorship. Funding The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research.and contextual-level effects on both cognitions and behaviors. 2. and/or publication of this article: These materials are based on work supported by. In addition. and scholars are encouraged to use such methods to unravel individual. Perhaps. Finally. Declaration of Conflicting Interests The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research. Downloaded from crx. Although we know that the media do influence perceptions of public opinion. Including a measure of valence would also shed light on these results.g.sagepub.com at National School of Political on August 28. 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. Any opinions. When dealing with a phenomenon such as public opinion. Much research has found that the level of agreement or disagreement in those conversations can have tremendous effects on perceptions. that is transitory and bound up with place and time (Noelle-Neumann. it is essential to examine potential combinations of processes of influence. NES simply asked respondents whether they talked to family or friends about politics.
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