alexa Does negative news matter? The effect of television news on party images in the 1997 British general election
Social & Political Sciences

Social & Political Sciences

Journal of Mass Communication & Journalism

Author(s): David Sanders, Pippa Norris

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It is widely assumed that British voters obtain a considerable amount of their political information from television and that television news plays an important part in shaping their political and economic perceptions. In these circumstances it comes as something of a surprise to discover that there is no direct individual-level evidence to show that any such effects do indeed operate. This study seeks to address this shortcoming. It uses an experimental research design to assess the extent to which the political perceptions of a sample of 1125 UK voters tested during the 1997 general election campaign were affected by 'positive' and 'negative' party images presented in television news programmes. As well as being of intrinsic importance to debates about the effects of television news, this focus on positive and negative news has more than passing relevance for the kinds of campaigning that political parties adopt. Evidence from the United States shows not only that American journalists have become more 'negative' in the way they approach the reporting of political stories (Patterson, 1993) but also that 'negative campaigning' has become much more prevalent in American elections (Ansolabehere and Iyengar, 1997). Given the tendency for the United States to export its cultural and political habits to the UK, it is conceivable that both negative reporting and negative campaigning will increase in Britain in the future. Although there are obvious differences between supposedly neutral news broadcasts and self-evidently biased exercises in party propaganda, any evidence about the relative roles played by positive and negative television images could have important implications for the likely success of the alternative strategies available to political parties. Section 1 of this paper briefly reviews the existing evidence that links (or fails to link) television news coverage to British voters' perceptions and preferences. Section 2 summarizes our basic theoretical model and develops the specific hypotheses that we seek to test.

This article was published in Journal of Elections Public Opinion & Parties and referenced in Journal of Mass Communication & Journalism

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