Author Archives: Joanna Raczkiewicz
As reported by Nielsen, more than 80 million Americans tuned in to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—a record in the 60-year history of televised debates. Tonight’s third and final debate will take place at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and will be moderated by Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace.Tonight’s format will be identical to that of the first presidential debate: six timed segments of approximately 15 minutes on topics selected by the moderator: debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots and fitness to be president.Like many voters, we at HI will be tuning in to hear the candidates articulate their visions for the country. But as social scientists and researchers of media effects, we’ll also be paying attention to a handful of features that have been shown to engage viewers and influence our assessments of candidates and the issues they discuss.HI’s recent work Earlier this year, we initiated a study in which we recorded eligible voters’ neural activity as they watched snippets of the primary debates. Led by former HI Fellow Jason Sherwin and detailed in his article for the Huffington Post, the study’s aims included observing when the voting population responded on a neural level—as measured by electroencephalograph or EEG—to what a candidate said.In expanding on that work, we wanted to see if we could identify patterns in what viewers’ brains were responding to. For example, could we detect differences in neural engagement based on the topic or other features of candidate messages? Does party affiliation correlate with greater overall attentiveness when the candidate they support vs. other candidate is speaking? Can we disentangle the effects of how a debate is delivered by the media  — think production techniques — from how the debate is performed by the candidates?We’ll be reporting on our findings in the near future. In the meantime, follow the debates as a social scientist might, keeping tabs on the below:1. Issue Topics: What issues are the candidates talking about?In our ongoing research, we’re analyzing debate transcripts on a statement-by-statement basis, coding for who is speaking, who they’re addressing, and what they’re talking about. Our labeling of issues is aligned with the topic classification used by the Policy Agendas Project, which tracks trends in policy across the world. The 26 issues we’re looking at include topics ranging from macroeconomics, to education, to defense.2. Issue framing: How are the issues being talked about?Many campaign issues are multidimensional and can be presented from different perspectives  . The way an issue is framed influences our understanding of the topic at hand, emphasizing one interpretation of a topic over another . Is health care being discussed as a basic human right? Or in terms of economics or the Federal budget? Frame categories of interest include:
- Moral: For discussion centered on values, religion, “right” and “wrong,” ethics, qualities of character.
- Constitutional/Legal: Discussion references law, constitutional rights, etc.
- Economic: Frames related to money, finances, taxes, the macro-economy, citizens’ pocketbooks, etc.
- Safety: Discussion centered on security, protection from foreign military or terrorist threats, public safety, etc.
- Bureaucratic/Logistical: References government processes and operations.
- Political: This includes talk of voting and voting records, campaign issues, and direct remarks by the candidate criticizing their opponent’s abilities.
- Effectiveness: These statements refer to how a policy plan worked or will work; and whether or not it solves the problem at hand.
- Patriotism: Is the candidate bringing up fundamental American virtues, ideals, or pride?
3. Time orientation: Are the candidates talking about what they’ve accomplished in the past, the current state of the country, or the future they want to achieve?This, too, may influence voter perception of and attitudes toward candidates, and even election outcomes. One study found that in the general phase of the presidential campaign, eventual winners used a significantly larger proportion of retrospective (and a smaller proportion of prospective) utterances than losers .4. Rhetorical strategies: How are candidates being persuasive?Studies have shown that use of evidence (e.g., statistics, quotes) to support a claim can be persuasive  but, if overused, can also leave the impression of small-mindedness . Negative and positive emotional appeals—think fear-mongering—are both shown to enhance the power of a message . (Here’s more on how the emotional tones of the candidates have shifted over the course of the debates.) Use of figurative language and repetition may also influence how persuasive a message is. Trump and Clinton have been known to use these techniques in the past—let’s see what they will employ tonight.5. Presentation: What visual and nonverbal features are at play?While networks may wish to provide a debate program that maximizes entertainment value, the actual visual presentation may very well affect how and what viewers learn from debate viewing .
- Researchers have shown that spatial context, including camera switching and placement of visual cues on screen significantly affects viewers’ memory of a news program .
- How an image is shot and framed can influence perceptions . One study, for instance, showed that viewers rated those photographed from a low angle as more active and powerful than those photographed straight on .
- Split-screen shots (where close-ups of both candidates are shown on screen at the same time) have been proven to be a vital component of how viewers formed opinions on candidate character and party attachment compared to single screen shots .
Informed by findings such as these, we’ll be noting cinematic conventions such as shot type (e.g., close-ups, split-screen, etc.); shot angle (high, low, or neutral); camera movement; as well as presence of graphics and animations on screen.6. Performance: What are the candidates saying with their bodies?Research indicates non-verbal communication plays a key role in audience evaluation of political candidates; viewers rely on televised appearances to make personality trait judgments such as competence, leadership, and integrity—largely due to the prominence of visual symbols .According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, traits such as strength/competence and warmth/trustworthiness account for 80-90% of the variance in our evaluations of other people, and politicians especially.These include “power poses,” behavior at the podium, genuine smiles, and use of space; last week’s town-hall debate between Clinton and Trump offered numerous opportunities to observe these strategies in practice. If you missed that debate, subsequent reporting and pop-cultural commentary—e.g., SNL’s spoof—highlighted some of the more performative aspects of each candidate’s presentation. We look forward to watching for more of the same.Suffice to say: there are plenty ways to watch—so pay attention to what gets your attention tonight!
References & Notes Cho, Jaeho. 2009. “Disentangling Media Effects from Debate Effects: The Presentation Mode of Televised Debates and Viewer Decision Making.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 86 (2): 383–400. Boydstun, Amber E., Dallas Card, Justin Gross, Paul Resnick, and Noah A. Smith. “Tracking the Development of Media Frames within and across Policy Issues.” (2014). Boydstun, A. E., R. A. Glazier, M. T. Pietryka, and P. Resnik. 2014. “Real-Time Reactions to a 2012 Presidential Debate: A Method for Understanding Which Messages Matter.” Public Opinion Quarterly 78 (S1): 330–43. doi:10.1093/poq/nfu007. Chong, Dennis, and James N. Druckman. 2007. “Framing Theory.” Annual Review of Political Science 10: 103–26. doi:10.1146/annurev.polisci.10.072805.103054. Benoit, William L. 2006. “Retrospective Versus Prospective Statements and Outcome of Presidential Elections.” Journal of Communication 56 (2): 331–45. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00022.x. Reinard, John C. 1988. “The Empirical Study of the Persuasive Effects of Evidence: The Status After Fifty Years of Research.” Human Communication Research 15: 3–59. Levasseur, David, and Kevin W. Dean. 1996. “The Use of Evidence in Presidential Debates: A Study of Evidence Levels and Types from 1960 to 1988.” Argumentation and Advocacy, 129. Nagel, Friederike, Marcus Maurer, and Carsten Reinemann. 2012. “Is There a Visual Dominance in Political Communication? How Verbal, Visual, and Vocal Communication Shape Viewers’ Impressions of Political Candidates.” Journal of Communication 62: 833–50. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01670.x. McKinney, M. S., & Carlin, D. B. “Political campaign debates.” In Kaid, Lynda Lee, ed. Handbook of political communication research. Routledge, 2004. Rothkopf, E.Z., P. Dixon, and M.J. Billington. 1986. “Effects of Enhanced Spatial Context on Television Message Retention.” Communication Research 13 (1): 55–69 Schill, Dan. 2012. “The Visual Image and the Political Image: A Review of Visual Communication Research in the Field of Political Communication.” The Review of Communication 12 (2): 118–42. doi:10.1080/15358593.2011.653504. Leem, Mandell, and Shaw Donaldl. 1973. “Judging People in the News – Unconsciously: Effect of Camera Angle and Bodily Activity.” Journal of Broadcasting 17 (3): 353–62. doi:10.1080/08838157309363698.Image source|AFTVnews
Cross-posted on the Media Impact Project’s blog The Fray.Over the last twenty years, the number of documentary films produced annually has grown exponentially. According to Numbers.com, a site that tracks the US box office revenue and movie sales, documentary films account for 14 percent of all films released between 1995 and 2015, placing it as the third most widely produced genre. Those numbers don’t account for the fact that docs are commonly distributed via broadcast television, cable networks and, more recently, online meaning the actual number films released is likely much higher.