Voters pay high attention to media reporting in U.S. presidential polls: McCombs

January 21, 2016 - 0:0

TEHRAN - Max McCombs, an internationally recognized professor for his research on the agenda-setting role of mass communication and the influence of the media on the focus of public attention, tells the Tehran Times that “the history of presidential elections (in the U.S.) over past decades indicates that the voters do pay significant attention to the media’s reporting on major public issues.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: During presidential election in 1968, you studied the role of media in shaping public opinion thoroughly. Accordingly, there is a relationship between what nominees say and what the media recounts. I would like you to describe which of these two factors take precedence and why?

A: During a presidential election the agendas of the candidates and the news media are thoroughly intertwined. Early in the year-long runup to the U.S. election, many of the candidates competing for the presidential nomination of their party are at least somewhat unfamiliar to the media, giving them something of an advantage in securing news coverage for their agenda. After all, these candidates are major news sources. Sometimes this is true for only one of the major parties when the incumbent president is seeking re-election. At other times, such as this year, both parties have candidates vying for their nomination. However, as the campaign progresses and journalists become more familiar with these individuals, the media begin to pursue a more independent and critical (in the proper sense of the word) perspective of the candidates. The candidates become only one among many sources used by journalists to report on the campaign. This “check” on the candidates’ statements and agendas is a valuable contribution to citizens in making their decision.

Q: At present, and with regard to the current election campaigns of Democrats and Republicans, which of these two parties was able to absorb public opinion more?

A: At this point we are just entering the party primary phase of the election – the phase in which a number of candidates compete for each party’s presidential nomination. Because the voters in these primaries tend to be more conservative among Republicans and more liberal among Democrats, the candidates tend to seize on those elements of public opinion that appeal to their primary voters. A more balanced view of public opinion is not likely to manifest itself until the fall when moderates and independents become a major portion of the likely voters.

Q: Which of these two parties are more powerful in media competition? And how does it manifest itself?

A: There is general agreement that in the last presidential election, the Democrat party was far more successful in using social media to advance Barack Obama’s candidacy. However, regarding the use of television for political advertising, it is a matter of how much money each party has to buy television time. Republicans tend to have an advantage here.

Q: What subjects do the media make more use of for the purpose of making saliency (Agenda-Setting Theory)?

A: Journalists love audacious comments by candidates because they make lively stories. And there has been an ample supply of such statements in recent months by the Republican contenders for their party’s nomination. This kind of coverage will continue right up to election day, but the serious reporting will take on a larger and more important role.

Q: Do you give a determining role to the media in the presidential election?

A: The voters play the determining role in an election. To what extent will they follow the serious reporting of the media on substantive issues and to what extent will they attend to the campaign behavior of the candidates? The history of presidential elections over past decades indicates that the voters do pay significant attention to the media’s reporting on major public issues.