Media impacts voter reaction to debates

Sept. 29, 2012 at 7:58 PM
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COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- The media have a strong influence on whether viewers think presidential debates are a discussion of the issues or simply a competition, U.S. researchers say.

Lead author Ray Pingree, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University in Columbus, Andrea Quenette, a graduate student at Ohio State, and Rosanne School of Louisiana State University asked young Americans to view actual clips from the 2004 and 2008 presidential debates and then read media coverage of the debate.

"We need the media to treat the content of the debates more seriously. Viewers want to hear how their vote choice connects to real problems facing the nation," Pingree said in a statement. "There will be other times for the media to focus on who won or who looked better."

The study took place two weeks prior to the 2004 election, and involved 698 college students. All were exposed to a 5-minute segment of the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry. One group read no media coverage afterward. The other two groups read different versions of a 400-word post-debate news article about the segment, written specifically for the study.

The two articles were nearly identical, except for the framing. In the policy frame, the article emphasized the candidates' different positions on the issues. In the game frame, the article emphasized candidate performance and character issues, Pingree said.

The findings, published in the current issue of the Journal of Communication, found even though they all were exposed to the same clip, viewers who read the media article with the game frame -- emphasizing who won the debate -- listed the fewest policy reasons in their description of the debate, while those who read the article with the policy frame listed the most policy reasons and those who didn't read any coverage fell in the middle.

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