There are different types of media including the newspapers, televisions, radios and lately we have the social media. The news media play a vital role in the functioning of today’s democracies. Citizens rely on the media for information about the actions of their elected leaders. Policy outcomes are affected by political preferences and beliefs of voters. The power of mass media to people’s opinions seems to be more today than it was in the previous years. The media plays a key role in shaping these preferences and beliefs in the minds of the voters. The media collects, summarizes and frames all the information that is needed by the voters to make their voting decisions. This article will focus on the effects that the media has on the voting process if they have any effect at all. The paper will sample views from different writers and articles that have been written previously on the topic. There a section of scholars, those believe that the media has little or no effect on the voting process while there is another group that believes that the media has a great influence when it comes to influencing the voters’ beliefs.
Most Americans believe that there is a great deal of media bias when it comes to news coverage. According to Della and Kaplan, (2007), media bias is common in news reporting and it is even more rampant in countries where there is less media freedom. However, the effect of the media bias depends on how the audience digests the message that is being passed through. If the audience is aware of the media bias and its ability to filter messages then the effect on the voter’s beliefs will not be massive. In today’s rational world the media, bias does not persuade voters, (Della and Kaplan, 2007). It should be noted that first time voters are more likely to go and respond to campaign trails and the news about a particular candidate as they hear it in the mass media. The experienced voters however are more likely to think independently without the influence from the media. Della and Kaplan (2007) notes that rational viewer will not be persuaded by a biased media source. When a rational viewer knows that news from a particular news channel are biased she is mostly likely to discount the news.
When Rupert Murdoch introduced the 24-hour Fox news channel in October 1996, a rapid expansion of the media house of experienced. At least 17 percent of the US population was reached by June 2000. With the introduction of the Fox News Channel, there was a significant impact on voting for the republican candidate, (Della and Kaplan, 2007). There were Democratic voters who switched and voted for the Republican candidate due to the Fox news exposure. According to Della and Kaplan, (2007) most voters turned out to vote for the republican candidate because of the exposure that they got from the Fox news Channel. Given that the news channel had just been introduced, it would be difficult to know if the media was biased against any candidature or not. For the people who watched it for the first time they did not realize the biasness and therefore believed what the news channel broadcasted. Della and Kaplan (2007) conclude that exposure to media bias influences how a voter casts their vote.
Messages from the media undergo massive filtering because the interested citizens are more likely to be affected by the background information and psychological conditions, (Alotaibi, 2013). Della and Kaplan (2007) agree on this saying that a media source will inject bias when reporting on a particular candidate. They are bound to report positively on a Republican candidate and negatively report on a Democratic candidate. Exposure to media content is necessary but it proves to be insufficient when it comes to shaping the public’s notion of what is important, (Alotaibi, 2013). According to Alotaibi, (2013), there are other elements other than the media that can alter the media effect. Elements like individual mechanism of selective perception, social processes which filter the receipt of news and a test of reality in terms of direct experience, (Alotaibi, 2013). These views are also supported by Carmines et al. who insist that the media has little influence on how the people vote.
As quoted by Alotaibi (2013), Carmines et al. give four reasons as to why the media have limited access to the decision making of the voters. The first reason is that citizens are not sufficiently interested to take the note of the media. Some of the citizens might not be interested in what the media has to say especially if they have already formed opinions. If the citizens believe that, the media is biased towards a particular political party or figure they might not be interested in what the media has to say. Secondly, conflicting messages might cancel each other. Depending on the biasness of different media houses, they might have different messages that tend to conflict each other. At the end of it all, the message sent across will be contradicting each other and therefore cancel each other.
The third reason is message received is absorbed and catalyzed through individuals own interpretations and communication. Everybody has their own way of interpreting any message they receive. In this case, the same message might be interpreted differently by different people. Therefore, the message might not have the desired impact on the target group. Finally, citizens can be quite selective and they receive messages that only support their preexisting preferences. If a voter has preferences on a particular party, he/she might not waste their time listening or watching news from the party that they do not support. According to Carmines et al., these four reasons will lead to the media having minimal effects on the choices of the voters.
Attitudes towards the media may also influence the voters’ decision when it comes to the electoral process. The people with negative attitude towards the media tend to resist any new information that comes from the media about the economy. This group of people mostly bases their opinions on partisan predispositions, (Ladd, 2007). If a population has a negative attitude towards the news media then it will not have any effect on how they will vote. According to Ladd (2007), those with negative attitude towards the media, their preferences are based on the party identification rather than new information from the media. Pinkleton et al. (1998) negativity towards the media campaign coverage reduces the media use in the voters’ decision-making. Pinkleton et al. (1998) note that mass media use positively predicts the voting behavior. When voters have a negative attitude towards the media campaign tactics it will have little or less impact on the political participation.
Yamamura and Sabatini (2015) agree that mass media plays a major role when it comes to the voting process. They use a survey that was collected immediately after Junichiro Koizumi’s Victory with a landslide in 2005. The results that they found showed that constant media exposure led to the massive win for the presidential candidate. People were not concerned about his policies as much as the exposure that he got from the mass media. According to Yamamura and Sabatini (2015), there was a positive relationship when it came to comparing the results with the influence from the mass media. Most of the women who watched television voted for Koizumi while majority of the men who read newspapers voted for him too. This is contrary to earlier reports that indicated exposure to mass media cannot influence the voting behavior of a particular group of people.
It is impossible to discuss the role of the media in the voting process without discussing the social media. The young people today rely on the social media to stay up to date. Politicians have also turned to social media to try and woe their supporters. What effect do social media have on the voting process? According to Sedghi (2015), a third of young people think that social media will influence their voting. In Britain, the social media is ranked fourth as a potential influence on voting, (Sedghi, 2015). With many people wanting to take charge of the political future of their various countries, it is not a surprise that many political candidates have turned to social media to share their policies and visions.
A research by Ipsos Mori showed that 71 percent of people in Britain do believe that social media presents a platform and a voice to people who would not take part in political debates. That said the social media has helped break the barriers that exists between the voters and the politicians. The politicians can use the social media to easily influence the voters to swinging their votes towards them. Information that is posted to the social media by supports of a particular party might influence how the voter will cast their votes. On the other side however, the same research shows that not everybody will believe everything that they read in the social media platforms. However, with the age of constant technology advancement it is more likely that more people will turn to social media to get information about their favorite candidate.
Going with all the literature materials that have been reviewed in this article, it is not fully conclusive that the media actually influences the voting process. The perception of the people who are being exposed to the mass media might also play a role in their voting decision. There are some people who will be easily influenced by the media while others might depend on their own dependent minds and what they know to vote. Even if the opinions expressed in the media might be of little influence to the voters, it is completely conclusive that they will influence the choice of the voter at the end of it. People perceive information differently and the information that is released in the media cannot be a determinant of how people vote.
Alotaibi, Nasser, Media Effects on Voting Behavior European Scientific Journal Vol.9 No.20 (2013)
Della, Stefano and Kaplan, Ethan The Political Impact on Media Bias Information and Public Choice, 2007
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Ladd, Jonathan Attitude Toward the News Media and American Voting Behavior Georgetown University 2007
Pinkleton, Bruce, Austin Erica, and Fortman, Kristine Relationship of Media Use and Political Disaffection to political Efficacy and voting Behavior Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media Vol. 42 No. 1 (1998): 34-39
Sedghi, Ami. A Third of Young People Think Social Media Will Influence Their Vote The Guardian, March 10, 2015 retrieved from www.theguardian.com/2015/mar/10/a-third-of-young-people-think-social-media-will-influence-their-vote accessed 23 Feb 2016
Thelwell, Emma Election 2015: TV Debates ‘most influential’ For Voters BBC News May 9, 2015 retrieved from www.bbc.com/news/election-2015-32673439 accessed 23 Feb 2016
Yamamura, Eiji and Sabatini Fabio the Impact of the Media on Voters’ Attitude toward Junichiro Koizumi and His Policy Japan and the World Economy Vol.34 (2015): 24-32