George M. Bob-Milliar
Since the early 1990s, African states have been democratizing. Political parties now dominate the public spaces in many African democracies. The past 26 years have witnessed the growth and consolidation of “party democracy” in Africa. This is the longest period of uninterrupted growth of electoral politics in many countries on the continent. Recent Afrobarometer surveys show that almost two-thirds (63%) of Africans support pluralistic politics. Party identification in sub-Saharan Africa has also been on the rise. Across 16 states Afrobarometer surveyed, a majority of Africans (65%) claim they “feel close to” a political party in their country. The mass public who identified with a particular political party increased by 7 percentage points between 2002 and 2015.
Political parties are the vehicles for citizens to engage in party activism. The women and men who join a political party become the party activists. Party activists are the lifeblood of the party organization. And political party activism in sub-Saharan Africa is geared toward the election of the party and its candidates into office. Consequently, party activism is a continuum of high-intensity and low-intensity political activities. Party activists vary in their levels of involvement. Thus, it is a mixture of fanfare and aggressive participation. Political party activism is a multifaceted process where party members undertake any of the following political activities: display a poster, donate money, help with fund-raising, deliver election leaflets, help at a party function, attend party meetings, undertake door-to-door campaigning, and run for party office. The involvement of party members usually varies from active engagement to passive attachment to the party. There were several motives for party activists getting involved in “high-intensity participation.” Because of the crucial role party activists play in the intra- and inter-party competition, the parties provide some incentives to get members commitment. At the organizational level, party activists present themselves for election into party offices at the grassroots, regionally or nationally. They devote their time and financial resources in furtherance of the party agenda. In return, party activists expect the party to reward them with selective incentives when power is won. That said, more research is required at the country level to enable us to construct the profile of the African party activists.
The cultural distinctiveness of the South led to a backlash in the region in the years following the rise of a national LGBTQ movement. In the decades that followed, political science research showed that the South remained fundamentally different than elsewhere in the nation in terms of attitudes regarding LGBTQ individuals and policies, both regarding overall views and Southerners’ imperviousness to personal contact with queer individuals in terms of reshaping attitudes. In electoral politics, explicit group-based appeals regarding LGBTQ individuals were often employed. And, policy divergence between the South and non-South was stark. While unambiguous shifts have occurred in the South in a more pro-LGBTQ rights direction, the region remains distinctively conservative when it comes to LGBTQ politics. Particularly striking are Southern attitudes toward transgender individuals and policies. That said, “two Souths” have begun to cement on LGBTQ politics as urbanized and suburbanized areas have diverged. Moreover, within the region’s Republican Party, a factional divide has begun to show itself across the South. The South remains consequential in gauging whether backpedaling on the dramatic progress made on LGBTQ rights is occurring in the United States.
Jiawei Liu and Dietram A. Scheufele
There is a dichotomy in framing research that can be traced back to its multidisciplinary origins in psychology and sociology. Definitions of framing rooted in psychology are concerned with the differential presentation of the otherwise identical information and are often referred to as equivalence framing. Definitions rooted in more sociological traditions investigate how a message can be constructed with different sets of information to highlight contrasting perspectives on the same issue. The latter is typically referred to as emphasis framing. Although often subsumed under the same label, equivalence framing and emphasis framing are systematically different, both conceptually and operationally. Therefore, the two traditions need to be carefully distinguished in terms of their origins, conceptualization and operationalization of frames, underlying mechanisms, cognitive outcomes, and their relationships with other media effects theories.
Categorizing existing studies revealed two major pitfalls in framing effects literatures. First, many political communication studies to date have adopted the emphasis framing approach. However, as substantial manipulation of information introduces confounding variables making it difficult for researchers to attribute the effect on the audience to the change of frames, this approach has relatively low internal validity in experiments and can hardly be distinguished from other cognitive media effects models, such as agenda setting and priming. Thus, the bias toward emphasis framing needs to be addressed by conducting research with equivalence frames so that a more concrete causal relationship between message framing and its effects can be established. In addition, little attention has been given to visuals in framing effects research so far. Considering that people consume information in a multimedia environment online, visual frames and verbal-visual interactions need to be further investigated.
Citizens are continuously inundated with political information. How do citizens process that information for use in decision-making? Political psychologists have generally thought of information processing as proceeding through a series of stages: (1) exposure and attention; (2) comprehension; (3) encoding, interpretation, and elaboration; (4) organization and storage in memory; and (5) retrieval. This processing of information relies heavily on two key structures: working memory and long-term memory. Working memory actively processes incoming information whereas long-term memory is the storage structure of the brain. The most widely accepted organizational scheme for long-term memory is the associative network model. In this model, information stored in long-term memory is organized as a series of connected nodes. Each node in the network represents a concept with links connecting the various concepts. The links between nodes represent beliefs about the connection between concepts. These links facilitate retrieval of information through a process known as spreading activation. Spreading activation moves information from long-term memory to working memory. When cued nodes are retrieved from memory, they activate linked nodes thereby weakly activating further nodes and so forth. Repeatedly activated nodes are the most likely to be retrieved from long-term memory for use in political decision-making.
The concept of an associative network model of memory has informed a variety of research avenues, but several areas of inquiry remain underdeveloped. Specifically, many researchers rely on an associative network model of memory without questioning the assumptions and implications of the model. Doing so might further inform our understanding of information processing in the political arena. Further, voters are continuously flooded with political and non-political information; thus, exploring the role that the larger information environment can play in information processing is likely to be a fruitful path for future inquiry. Finally, little attention has been devoted to the various ways a digital information environment alters the way citizens process political information. In particular, the instantaneous and social nature of digital information may short-circuit information processing.
There is a great deal of research, spanning social psychology, sociology, and political science, on politically relevant attitudes toward women and the influence of gender on individual’s political decision making. First, there are several measures of attitudes toward women, including measures of sexism and gender role attitudes, such as the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, the Old-Fashioned Sexism Scale, the Modern Sexism Scale, and the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. There are advantages and disadvantages of these existing measures. Moreover, there are important correlates and consequences of these attitudes. Correlates include education level and the labor force participation of one’s mother or spouse. The consequences of sexist and non-egalitarian gender role attitudes include negative evaluations of female candidates for political office and lower levels of gender equality at the state level. Understanding the sources and effects of attitudes toward women is relevant to public policy and electoral scholars.
Second, gender appears to have a strong effect on shaping men’s and women’s attitudes and political decisions. Gender differences in public opinion consistently arise across several issue areas, and there are consistent gender differences in vote choice and party identification. Various issues produce gender gaps, including the domestic and international use of force, compassion issues such as social welfare spending, equal rights, and government spending more broadly. Women are consistently more liberal on all of these policies. On average, women are more likely than men to vote for a Democratic Party candidate and identify as a Democrat. There is also a great deal of research investigating various origins of these gender differences. Comprehending when and why gender differences in political decision making emerge is important to policymakers, politicians, the political parties, and scholars.
Paul A. Djupe and Brian R. Calfano
In the main, the link between religious variables and political choices is wrapped up in a communicative process of exposure and adoption. Specifically, people become exposed to religious teachings and viewpoints within religious contexts, they then must determine whether and to what extent they will adopt those teachings and viewpoints as their own, and then they must adapt them to political ends. Critical to this approach is the acknowledgment that religious social and institutional contexts are rife with diversity, even within religious traditions. This diversity extends to religious adherents, congregations, and elites and means that people receive a variety of religious and political cues from religious sources across time and space. It is this variation that is critical to measure in order to understand religion’s effects on political behavior. That is, documenting the implications of religious diversity is as much a question of research design as it is a theoretical framework. This framework is flexible enough to accommodate the growing literature examining political input effects on religious output.
The norms and patterns of exposure and adoption vary by the combination of the communicator and context: political communication in congregations, religious communication effects on politics in congregations, and religious communication by elites in public space. There are very few instances of political elites in religious spaces, at least in the United States. Presidents and other political elites have used religious rhetoric throughout American history in varying proportions, though how they have used it is changing in the Trump era to be much more particularistic and exclusive rather than the traditional broad and inclusive language of past presidents.
A central variable moderating the impact of communication is credibility, which can be demonstrated in multiple ways, including political agreement as well as religious office, rhetorical choices, and decision-making processes. Religious elites, especially, battle against the weight of history, inattention, and misperception in their attempts to lead prophetically. As a result, religious elite influence, in the sense of changing hearts and minds, is a fraught enterprise.
Naturally, we recommend adopting research designs that are appropriate for incorporating measurement on communication exposure so we can appropriately understand adoption decisions. This demands some creativity on behalf of researchers, which also drives them toward experimental work where exposure questions are built into the design and affords them a great deal of control.
Framing effects are produced by political communications that emphasize certain characteristics or consequences of an issue or policy to the exclusion of other features. By increasing the accessibility of those characteristics in people’s judgments, individuals can be swayed between supporting and opposing a policy depending on the valence of the highlighted feature. The preference inconsistencies that define framing effects were generated initially in environments in which individuals responded to a singular framing of an issue (i.e., a one-sided frame) at the expense of alternative conceptualizations of the problem. An important question is whether framing effects can be diminished by the competition among ideas that is characteristic of democratic politics.
The analysis of competitive framing has focused on the interaction between individual predispositions and processing styles and the combination of messages that individuals receive. The effectiveness of any particular communication strategy will depend on the characteristics of the target audience (specifically its values, knowledge, and processing style), the availability and applicability of the frames employed (i.e., whether they are strong or weak), and the degree to which there is competition and debate over the issues.
Research has been based on increasingly realistic experimental designs that attempt to reproduce how people encounter and process communications about politics in natural environments. The competitive context affects how much information people receive as well as how they process that information. In noncompetitive political environments, individuals, especially those who are unmotivated, tend to apply whatever considerations are made accessible by the one-sided messages they receive. In contrast, competing frames tend to stimulate individuals to deliberate on the merits of alternative interpretations.
The key difference between competitive framing in a single period versus over time is that when people receive competing messages about political issues over the course of a campaign or debate, their attitudes are affected not only by the content of the messages but also the sequence and timing of communications. The same set of messages will have a different impact depending on the order and combinations in which those messages were received. The most significant implication of these dynamics is that democratic competition—even when the opposing frames are balanced and of equal strength—may reduce or eliminate framing effects only when people receive the opposing frames simultaneously.
The magnitude of framing effects at different junctures of a campaign depends on the extent of exposure to frames and the degree to which citizens learn and retain information derived from those frames. Individuals who more efficiently process and store information—the online processors and those with a strong need to evaluate—are less likely to be moved by the latest frame because they are stabilized by the attitudes they have developed in prior phases of the campaign. There are promising hints in over-time studies that longer-term exposure to debate (beyond the short-term campaigns simulated in experiments) could gradually familiarize motivated individuals with both sides of the issue and diminish the subsequent influence of one-sided frames.
Survey evidence indicates that political corruption is more prevalent in Africa than in any other global region, though there is also evidence of considerable variation between countries in degrees of corruption and where it is most likely to be located. Traditional explanations for the frequency of corrupt political behavior emphasized the effects of conflicting values that were a consequence of the imposition of modern forms of bureaucratic government upon societies in which authority rested upon personalized relationships. Contemporary African corruption’s historic roots and its variation across the continent may be the effect of the disjuncture or “incongruency” between colonial and successor postcolonial states and the precolonial political settings upon which they were imposed. Modern neo-patrimonialism is a coping response by rulers and citizens to conditions fostered by economic scarcity and institutional incapacity. Since the 1990s, democratization and liberalization have supplied fresh incentives and opportunities for venal politicians and officials. And even among Africa’s more capable and resourceful states, the institutional fluidity generated by democratic transition and economic reform has opened up possibilities of systematically organized state capture. Consequences of corruption certainly further impoverish poor people, and it is likely that corruption also limits economic growth and distorts government efforts to promote development. It is arguable that in the past, corruption may have helped to facilitate political stability but this is less likely in 2018, as evidence emerges of its corrosive effects on public trust in institutions. African anti-corruption efforts are constrained by the extent to which political power is exercised through patronage but there are instances of successful action, sometimes the byproduct of factional struggles within the political elite. As of 2018, there is no clear evidence of trends in success or failure in the work of African anti-corruption agencies.
Gizem Arikan and Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom
In research on religiosity and support for democratic norms, two major debates stand out: The first concerns whether some religious traditions, such as Islam or Orthodox Christianity, are inherently undemocratic, and hence whether supporters of these traditions have antidemocratic orientations. The second debate is about whether religious orientations beyond religious identification foster or hinder support for democratic norms. Both debates may be resolved by conceptualizing both individual religiosity and support for democratic norms as multidimensional orientations. At the individual level, religiosity consists of belief, behavior, and belonging dimensions. Support for democratic norms consist of overt approval of democracy as the ideal system of governing the country and intrinsic support, which refers to an understanding of democracy as being primarily associated with liberal-democratic norms and institutions such as popular sovereignty, political equality, civil rights, and free elections. Religious belief is negatively associated with over support, and religious social behavior is positively associated with overt support. Yet, there is some evidence that the effect of religious social behavior on intrinsic support for democracy may not be positive. Recent scholarship is also interested in identifying the psychological mechanisms through which different religiosity dimensions affect support for democratic norms, as well as establishing the causal effects of religiosity dimensions by experimentally manipulating different facets of religiosity.
Although the multidimensional approach to religiosity provides a general framework that explains the effect of religiosity on support for democratic norms, there is still substantive variation across time and different contexts to be explained. Avenues exist for future research in terms of theorizing and identifying the moderating effects of different factors, most obviously the religious context and the influence of religious elites and social networks.
Gaurav Sood and Yphtach Lelkes
The news media have been disrupted. Broadcasting has given way to narrowcasting, editorial control to control by “friends” and personalization algorithms, and a few reputable producers to millions with shallower reputations. Today, not only is there a much broader variety of news, but there is also more of it. The news is also always on. And it is available almost everywhere. The search costs have come crashing down, so much so that much of the world’s information is at our fingertips. Google anything and the chances are that there will be multiple pages of relevant results.
Such a dramatic expansion of choice and access is generally considered a Pareto improvement. But the worry is that we have fashioned defeat from the bounty by choosing badly. The expansion in choice is blamed for both, increasing the “knowledge gap,” the gap between how much the politically interested and politically disinterested know about politics, and increasing partisan polarization. We reconsider the evidence for the claims. The claim about media’s role in rising knowledge gaps does not need explaining because knowledge gaps are not increasing. For polarization, the story is nuanced. Whatever evidence exists suggests that the effect is modest, but measuring long-term effects of a rapidly changing media landscape is hard and may explain the results.
As we also find, even describing trends in basic explanatory variables is hard. Current measures are beset with five broad problems. The first is conceptual errors. For instance, people frequently equate preference for information from partisan sources with a preference for congenial information. Second, survey measures of news consumption are heavily biased. Third, behavioral survey experimental measures are unreliable and inapt for learning how much information of a particular kind people consume in their real lives. Fourth, measures based on passive observation of behavior only capture a small (likely biased) set of the total information consumed by people. Fifth, content is often coded crudely—broad judgments are made about coarse units, eliding over important variation.
These measurement issues impede our ability to answer the extent to which people choose badly and the attendant consequences of such. Improving measures will do much to advance our ability to answer important questions.
Understanding how individuals make political decisions in a complex and ever-changing world requires recognition of the dynamic nature of the environment, as well as theoretical and methodological strategies to address these complications. As the scholarly understanding of the limits of human cognition expands, researchers can no longer rely on decision-making models that assume unlimited time, resources, and/or abilities of voters. Fortunately, dynamic process tracing models demonstrate the information processing component of decision-making, turning the focus away (slightly) from the decision outcome and toward the ways that people come to these decisions. These models derive from weaker, but more accurate, assumptions about the cognitive abilities of humans and provide critical insight into both the factors that voters consider when making decisions and the ways voters incorporate those factors into their decisions. In addition, thanks to the work of Lau and Redlawsk, these processes are directly observable with their Dynamic Process Tracing Environment (DPTE).
Researchers relying on dynamic process tracing models are now able to assess the influence of political and demographic factors on the pattern, content, and amount of information voters access and rely on when making political decisions. These models offer a more realistic view of voter abilities than rational choice models, as well as providing greater insight into the process of decision-making (rather than the outcome of the process) than much of the work deriving from the Michigan model of public opinion. Additionally, the DPTE offers advantages over earlier static information board studies.
Rather than seeing one’s self in conflict with decades of public opinion research, however, scholars in the dynamic process tracing tradition would be wise to consider their work as complementary. A focus on political variables as outcomes misses a crucial cognitive step: the evaluation of environmental stimuli through the lenses of short- and long-term predispositions. As scholars seek to understand why voters possess certain attitudes, they should ask how those attitudes were formed in the first place. Dynamic process tracing models allow for theorizing about and empirically testing components of the decision-making process previously left uninvestigated.
Mary Stegmaier, Michael S. Lewis-Beck, and Lincoln Brown
In democracies, we elect our political leaders by choosing among a rival set of candidates or parties. What makes us pick one over all the others? Do we carefully weigh the platforms of all the candidates and then select the one closest to our personal desires? Or, do we select the candidate our friends and neighbors recommend? Perhaps, even, to save time, do we just vote for the same party we did last time? All of these are choice strategies, and there are many more. Here we focus on a well-known explanation of how voters decide, commonly called the Michigan Model, so named for the university where it was developed, in a path-breaking scholarly volume—The American Voter. The authors systematically gathered data, via scientific survey research, on individual voters in American presidential elections, measuring different traits, perceptions, and attitudes that they hypothesized might influence vote choice.
They arranged these different factors, or variables, into long-term forces and short-term forces that acted on the voter, and could be arrayed as if they were spread along a funnel of causality: from more remote, fixed variables, such as social class or party identification, to more proximate, fluid variables, such as issue preferences and candidate attributes. All these variables generally mattered, but those that concern us here deal with issues, in particular economic issues. How do voter evaluations of the economy help the voter decide what party to favor? Is it the national economy or the pocketbook that counts? How important are economic issues compared to other issues? What conditions make economic considerations more (or less) impactful? Does economic voting operate differently in different countries? These and other questions are addressed herein, with special attention to three leading democracies where economic voting has been heavily studied—the United States, Britain, and Germany. As demonstrated, economic considerations are pervasive and powerful elements in the democratic voter’s calculus.
With a conservative party in power since 2002 that has its roots in the pro-Islamist movement, the influence of religiosity upon party choice has attracted a lot of attention in the literature on Turkish elections and voting behavior. However, this literature uses measures of religiosity that change from one study to another and hence diagnosing trends over time or assessments concerning the influence of religiosity remains challenging. This article aims to first review the findings concerning the effect of religiosity upon party choice in Turkey. Second, using the Turkish Election Studies data for four general elections in the 2002–2015 period a unified comparable framework is adopted to evaluate the changing nature of the influence of religiosity upon party choice. The findings reached suggest that religiosity remains a potent variable in shaping party choice. However, over time and across parties its influence varies. A sectarian divide between the Sunni majority and the Alevi minority also appears to be useful especially differentiating the left-leaning main opposition party. This sectarian divide also seems to be shifting over time.
Jeremiah J. Castle
Scholars have identified a variety of mechanisms through which religion could impact vote choice in the United States. Researchers have long recognized that, like other social identities, religion is an important factor in the development of party identification. In the United States, evangelical Protestants and highly committed members of other religious traditions tend to favor the Republican Party, while seculars and low-commitment members of other religious traditions tend to favor the Democratic Party. Religion also impacts views on a variety of issues, including abortion, social welfare policy, and foreign affairs. Under the right circumstances, religious voters may incorporate these policy positions into their vote choice. Finally, a growing body of research recognizes that voters use a candidate’s religious views as a heuristic to infer partisanship, ideology, competence, trustworthiness, and a variety of other traits. Given these numerous paths of influence, it is no surprise that researchers regularly find that religion is an important factor in electoral choice.
Researchers have also identified a variety of ways in which religion can impact turnout, thereby creating a second means for religion to influence American elections. Religion helps in the development of social networks and civic skills, thus reducing the costs of political participation. Religion can also be a factor in the development of sociopsychological traits such as threat, thereby facilitating mobilization. By understanding the capacity of religion to impact both turnout and electoral choice, scholars can better understand the myriad ways in which religion influences elections in the United States.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that same-sex couples have the right to marry, and newspapers across the country declared that gay couples could now exercise this right in all 50 states. While the Obergefell decision was an important moment in history and a significant victory for the LGBT movement, it was not an immediate and complete change in policy. Rather, the change emerged slowly over decades from numerous complex interactions among federal, state, and local governmental actors. These same actors continue to influence marriage equality even after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling.
A careful consideration of the path of marriage equality demonstrates the importance of federalism in the evolution of policy in the U.S. context. Not only does the extent of federal involvement influence state decision-making, but state policies also respond to the policymaking processes in other states. Examining the progression of marriage rights for same-sex couples also illustrates how variation in state government institutions shape policy outcomes in the U.S. system. For example, aspects of state courts such as judicial capacity influence the nature of state policy responses on the issue of gay marriage. Finally, focusing on marriage equality provides an opportunity to consider how institutions of government and political actors strategically interact to influence the policymaking process. For example, advocacy coalitions make strategic choices to focus on levels and institutions of government that are more responsive to their interests. Overall, same-sex marriage policy and the scholarship that investigates it highlight the complex and sometimes convoluted development that characterizes the policymaking process on many important issues in American politics and society.
Dustin Carnahan, Qi Hao, and Xiaodi Yan
Since its emergence, framing has established itself as one of the most prominent areas of study within the political communication literature. Simply defined, frames are acts of communication that present a certain interpretation of the world that can change the ways in which people understand, define and evaluate issues and events. But while scholarly understanding of framing as a concept has been refined as a consequence of many years of constructive debate, framing methodology has evolved little since the introduction of the concept several decades ago. As a consequence, the methods employed to study and understand framing effects have not kept up with more modern conceptualizations of framing and have struggled to meaningfully contribute to framing theory on the whole. Specifically, analyses of the framing literature over the past two decades suggest framing studies often fall short in properly distinguishing framing effects from broader persuasion and information effects and the current state of the literature—characterized by inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies across individual works—has made generalization difficult, hampering further theoretical development. In light of these concerns, framing scholars must utilize research approaches that allow for a more precise understanding of the mechanisms by which framing effects occur and identify strategies by which broader insights may be gleaned from both current and future work on the subject in order to enrich framing theory moving forward.
Political scientists use the concept of legitimacy to assess the rightfulness of political rule. Their research can approach legitimacy from two perspectives: When taking a normative approach, political scientists develop and justify their own evaluation of the rightfulness of political arrangements. When taking an empirical approach, they study how other people—such as political elites or citizens—evaluate the rightfulness of political rule.
Both approaches have been used in research on the European Union. Scholarly discussions that approach the EU’s legitimacy from a normative perspective revolve around the question of which standards of rightfulness are appropriate for the EU. These depend largely on how the EU polity is conceptualized: as a technocratic regulatory agency, an intergovernmental organization, a federation, a demoi-cracy, or a system of multilevel governance. Since the EU is hybrid polity that possesses elements of each of these models, and is therefore difficult to classify, no consensus has emerged in this debate.
Scholarship that approaches the EU’s legitimacy as an empirical phenomenon examines political attitudes and discourses in European society, asking whether, and why, societal actors treat the EU as legitimate. A diverse set of research methods—including public opinion surveys, content analysis of different kinds of texts, and qualitative interviews with citizens—have been applied to shed light on this question. While this research has not provided clear evidence of a “legitimacy crisis” of the EU, it does show that many Europeans relate to the EU with a sense of diffuse unease and skepticism, in part because they find it opaque and difficult to understand.
James T. Hamilton
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
If most voters remain rationally ignorant about the details of public policy, how can politicians be held accountable for their actions? Information markets offer an unprecedented amount of data today to help people in their roles as consumers, workers, and audience members. Yet the stories that help voters hold politicians accountable face a number of hurdles in the market place. Investigative work about public affairs topics is expensive, uncertain, and not always highly demanded. Attempts by candidates to convey ideas through the media faces a conflict between what approaches motivate the marginal voter and what topics are of interest to the marginal viewer. Research in media economics offers evidence on what types of political information gets produced, what the impact of accountability journalism is on the functioning of government, and where market failures exist in the coverage of politics and policy.
Hajo G. Boomgaarden and Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck
Media are key for the functioning of democracy. It is the essential link between politics and citizens, providing critical information and interpretation of politics and room for debate. Given this central role of the media for democratic political processes, questions about how mediated political information would affect citizens’ perceptions of and attitudes toward politics, as well as ultimately political behavior, have been dominant in research in the field of political communication. While vast amounts of mid-range theories and empirical insights speak in favor of influences of media on citizens, there is little in terms of a universal theoretical framework guiding political media effects research, which makes it difficult to give a conclusive answer to the question: how and, in particular, how much do the media matter? It may matter for some people under some conditions in some contexts relating to some outcome variables. Technological changes in media systems pose additional challenges, both conceptually and methodologically, to come to comprehensive assessments of media influences on citizens’ political cognitions, attitudes, or behaviors. Research needs to be clearer as to which conceptualization of media is followed and how such conceptualization may interact with other dimensions of media attributes. Measurement of media use and reception needs to take into account the increasing complexities of how citizens encounter political information, and it requires alignment with the conceptualization of media. Political media effect theories should not continue developing side by side, but should attempt to find a place in a more comprehensive model and take into account how they relate to and possibly interact with other approaches. In sum, the field of political media effects, while vast and covering a range of aspects, would do well to consider its role and purpose in increasingly complex media environments and, accordingly, provide more integrative perspectives, conceptually, methodologically, and theoretically.
Toby Bolsen and Risa Palm
Motivated reasoning is a pervasive force in politics. The concept of motivated reasoning was developed and elaborated in both psychology and economics as a way of understanding the way in which people learn and respond to information, and as a mechanism to explain behavior that is seen as less than optimal. It has been important in political science since the early 2000s. Political scientists initially connected the distinct constructs of motivated reasoning with online information processing, given the affective, unconscious, and automatic bases of both processes, but they later distinguished cognitive effort and processing style from underlying goals or motivation. Most research on motivated reasoning in political science focuses on two primary motivations: accuracy and directional goals. An accuracy motivation is defined by reasoning that seeks to arrive at a conclusion that is free from error given the information at hand, whereas a directional goal is defined by a desire to protect one’s existing beliefs or identities. Much of the early research on motivated reasoning in political science painted citizens as incapable of evaluating information objectively, and, to make matters worse, citizens’ processing biases appeared to increase with political knowledge, interest, and the strength of existing political beliefs. A second generation of research on motivated reasoning identified individual-level and contextual factors that moderated or eliminated directional biases. Scholars developed a better understanding of how motivations rooted in partisan identity affect information interpretation, evaluation, and decision-making, as well how different information environments can shift the motivations that citizens pursue when they are reasoning about politics. The pursuit of an accuracy motivation in political reasoning is now considered a realistic and attainable standard for evaluating citizen competence in democratic societies that avoids many of the pitfalls of past attempts to define the quality of citizens’ reasoning capacities.