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Also, viewers may perceive the negative advertising as an infringement upon their right to decide for themselves. Such a perception may result in reactance, a boomerang effect in which the individual reacts in a manner opposite to the persuader's intention. What these studies show, then, is that a candidate is never going to know how for sure how a negative ad may impact the voters. In the long run, it may be best to keep away from mudslinging unless able to deal with the consequences.
TV debates are another form of communication that provide input on issues and may impact the voters. Naturally, the debate that comes to mind first is the one between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. Because Nixon hurt himself right before the TV lights came on, so he was not only exhausted but in pain as well. To top it off, his face always had a light beard, even right after he shaved. Regardless of how the debate went for Kennedy or Nixon, this was the start of a new form of communication that has since become an important element in the political voting process.
Unlike today, the first debates went right back to programming when the candidates left the stage. Now, even before the candidates arrive, commentators discuss how the speakers "will" do. This approach began in 1976 with the Carter and Ford matches. Since then, the press experts have had their say directly after the broadcast. Also, the 90-minute debate is reduced to a collection of soundbites that are played over and over again to take the place of the whole program. In the years since the Carter/Ford debate, the journalists have also overcome their hesitation of calling victors. With the assistance of instant poles, reporters can assess the performances within minutes of the closing statements. "The problem with declaring winners and losers," says David Broder of the Washington Post, in most the cases the outcome is murky" (Schroeder, 2000, p.178)
No one disputes, however, that debates attract a wide variety of people. From the first one in 1960, Americans have shown a growing interest in watching the action between the two contenders. In fact, 70 million people viewed this first Nixon/Kennedy debate. The debate between Carter and Reagan had an audience of 100 million; the second largest ever was the Clinton, Bush and Perot 1992 event with 90 million viewers. These debates almost had as large an audience as the top TV shows such as the final broadcast of "MASH" and "Who Shot JR?"
People like watching the debates, because it is actually like viewing movie stars. The debates are human intrigue and drama. New York Times columnist William Safire called these presidential debates "political-emotional events...great moments in American life when the nation comes together to share an experience neither frightening nor artificial."
Debates are to elections what treaties are to wars," says political scientist and democratic debate advisor Samuel Popkin. "They ratify what has already been accomplished on the battlefield." Since the 1960 debates, experts now agree that joint candidate appearances move perceptions more than votes. Research from numerous academic studies and political surveys indicate that these presidential debates are just one of the many factors considered at the ballot box. Further, it is virtually impossible to isolate debates from other influences on the voters' decisions.
If there is any sway by the voters after the debate, it is just to confirm what people already believe. A study by Jarman (2005) reports the reactions by registered voters to the second presidential debate in 2004. Respondents used a continuous response system that provided feedback in one-second intervals. These data were compared to a transcript of the debate to identify the strongest and weakest arguments made by candidates both for their own and opposition parties. Results suggest that political affiliation strongly influences audience reaction in two ways: (a) Republicans always rated Bush's comments higher than Democrats, whereas Democrats always rated Kerry's comments higher than Republicans; and (b) Republicans believed that Bush won the debate, whereas Democrats believed that Kerry won the debate. This research provides new support for the conclusion that debates tend to reinforce the preexisting positions of the audience warns that the amount of learning that takes place could be limited.
One of the newer TV political tactics is having candidates appear on talk and call-up shows. In both talk shows and citizen town meetings, purchased by the campaign, the candidates respond directly to the voters' and interviewers' questions with stock, rehearsed answers. Since it is not a debate, there is no give and take. Further, the question-and-answer period for each call is brief and the responses cursory. On the other hand, notes Levine (2002, p.251), such shows contribute to the public dialogue since they give the voters another opportunity to view their candidates. The call-in sessions also offer people the chance to voice their concerns about certain issues such as crime.
A study of Clinton's talk show appearances from June 2 to July 22, 1992, shows that the viewer questions focused not on personal credibility but on issues, especially domestic policy (Levine, 2002, p. 251). In his answers, Clinton provided fairly detailed policy information. These shows allowed him to convey his substantive message to voters when his campaign themes were being ignored by the press.
These political candidates also used the standard TV talk shows to get additional coverage. Individuals such as John Kerry relied on the television talk shows as a powerful message vehicle. These programs served as an important means for them to reach voters who may not take an interest in other campaign activities, such as debates. A study by William Benoit (2000) found that candidates, when appearing on talk shows, were positive in their overall statements, discussed policy and character on an even scale and primarily targeted their attacks on the incumbent president, rather than on primary contenders. Benoit examined nine candidates in the study: John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, Richard Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and Carol Moseley-Braun. The four most recent interviews for each candidate, on 13 different talk shows, including Good Morning America, The O'Reilly Factor, Larry King Live and Hardball.
The study found that 71% of the candidates' statements were self-praising. The only exception was Sharpton, who attacked in 58% of his statements. In the 2000 primary campaign, the Democrats were positive in 81% of their talk show statements. In terms of policy and character, Benoit found a slight emphasis on character vs. policy, 53% to 47%. The exceptions to this pattern were Moseley-Braun, who discussed policy 86% of the time, and Kucinich, who stressed policy in 68% of his statements. In the 2000 primary, Democrats focused on character at nearly the same rate, 55%, compared with talking about policy in 45% of their statements.
President Bush was the primary target of attack with candidates, who devoted 62% of their statements to him. When the candidates did, in fact, attack a fellow Democratic opponent, they most often attacked Dean, who received 74% of those attacks. In 2000, the Democrats directed 51% of their attacks to one another, 36% to Republicans and 13% to the establishment in general.
It is no wonder that the candidates are looking for other avenues to get their point across in addition to news programs. Conventional news coverage continues to filter opportunities for the candidates to talk directly with the public. In well-known, parallel studies, Adato and Hallin showed that the average candidate "soundbite," the period in which a presidential candidate could speak uninterrupted on the evening news, shrank from about 42 seconds in 1968 to about 9 seconds in 1988 (Fishkin). Recent studies by the Center for Media and Public Affairs show that during the 1992 primary season, this shrinkage continued. The average candidate soundbite has now diminished to 7.3 seconds.
The Norman Lear Center Campaign Monitoring Project conducted a study of the amount of time the news gave to candidates in the 2000 election. The analysts looked at news programming on 74 stations in 58 markets in the last 30 days before the election. They wanted to see whether a White House panel's recommendation of airing five minutes of candidate centered discourse (CCD) a night in the last month of a campaign had an impact.
The center found that the 74 stations ran an average of 74 seconds of CCD per night. The 74 stations fell into two groups. One group - 23 stations - had made a public commitment to meeting the 5/30 standard; their nightly average CCD was 2 minutes, 17 seconds. The other group - 51 stations - averaged 45 seconds of CCD a night. Thus, most stations in the study aired less than a minute of CCD a night, far short of the five-minute target. However, stations committed to the 5/30 standard aired more than three times as much CCD as stations that did not make…[continue]
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