How Does The Media Influence Presidential Elections Research Paper

Length: 9 pages Sources: 15 Subject: Government Type: Research Paper Paper: #89922201 Related Topics: Social Media, Media, Labeling Theory, Fake News
Excerpt from Research Paper :

How Does the Media Influence Presidential Elections?


This paper looks at the influence of media on presidential elections by first discussing the first presidential debate on TV between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960 and how there were no more televised debates until 1976 because TV’s influence was so powerful, candidates were not comfortable with the idea of being shown in a certain unflattering light the way Nixon was. Now today there is social media which is even more powerful than legacy media. However, many people already have their minds made up about who to vote for based on input from peers and family, who are two parts of the three part triumvirate of cognitive influence that consists of peers, groups and media, according to Bandura (2018). Therefore this paper looks at how labeling theory may be applied to determine the influence of media on presidential elections, looking specifically at the 2016 and 2020 election cycles.


The first televised debate in US presidential history was between Kennedy and Nixon. The two squared off four times on television, and by the end of the run Kennedy—the up-start runner from New England had bested the Establishment pick and former VP Nixon from the West Coast. On TV Nixon had looked pallid and sickly while Kennedy had exuded charm, charisma and color. Following their 1960 debates on TV it would be another 16 years before presidents would debate on TV—such was the impact that Kennedy’s appearance and subsequent victory had. TV, it was revealed, could make or break a presidential run (History). Since then, media has been seen as very influential in terms of showcasing electability. Media is such a big factor in today’s presidential elections that enormous amounts of money go into presidential campaigns just for the purpose of getting good media ads and Influencers on social media to help candidates improve their image for voters. This paper will explore how media influences presidential elections today.

Literature Review

Allcott and Gentzkow state that today social media is the dominant media when it comes to influencing how people view presidential candidates. They show that social media is especially effective in spreading news, both legitimate and “fake” as it has been called. The researchers argue that social media users are more likely to believe news stories about their chosen or preferred candidate when the stories fall in line with the user’s own ideological views. Allcott and Gentzkow thus show how social media and “fake news” played a major role in shaping the outcome of the 2016 presidential election between Trump and Clinton. Bennett and Livingston likewise arrived at the same conclusion: they found that major media outlets like CNN and FOX have been judged to be partisan and so viewers who want more authentic information have steered clear of these media outlets. Furthermore, disinformation campaigns have been found to be connected to a growing distrust among the populace for institutions and the news information that is put out into the public by official channels (Enli). As a result, in the 2016 election, people looked to alternative sources of information and turned to social media for news. Ironically, as Allcott and Gentzkow have shown, these same people end up generally gravitating to users on social media who put out information that aligns with their already formed or predetermined ideological biases.

One of the ways this happens is by way of data harvesting and targeted advertising. For example, the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal was a major political scandal in early 2018 when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political advertising purposes. Facebook’s design allowed the Cambridge Analytica app not only to collect the personal information of people who agreed to take a survey put out by the app, but also the personal information of all the people in those users’ Facebook social network (Cadwalladr, Graham-Harrison).

Then there is the way that Trump leveraged social media to gain traction among followers. He was very effective at using Twitter to roast his competition and to build up a fan base (Francia). Clinton did not leverage social media as effectively. The 2016 presidential election was to some degree a revision of the 1960 election when TV figured so predominantly in a presidential election for the first time. In 2016, social media figured predominantly in a presidential election for the first time thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Trump’s use of Twitter to promote his own personal brand of politics (Faris et al.; Francia; Grinberg et al.; McGeehan; Morgan; Wang et al.).

There is, however, some dispute as to what news is true and what news is fake as some researchers have argued that popular news media represents objective journalism and social media or alternative media sites represent fake news (Faris et al.; Posetti, Matthews; Rohlinger; Ross, Rivers; Zannettou et al.). This dispute focuses mainly on how news media is perceived, who is interacting with the media, and how it is being promoted. Some people perceive a slant in media based on their own political or ideological biases. So this…interpret these results to answer whether the hypotheses of the study are correct. The video interviews will be transcribed and the transcriptions analyzed using holistic analysis to break them down into sections so that themes can emerge.

Results (Expected)

It is expected that the interviews will show that those with a left-leaning ideology will view all news coming from right-leaning media proponents and outlets as inherently fake and therefore negatively impacting their preferred candidate’s chances of winning the election, while those with a right-leaning ideology will view all news coming from left-leaning media proponents and outlets as inherently fake and therefore negatively impacting their preferred candidate’s chances of winning the election. Overall, it is likely to be seen that people gravitate towards the news media that best aligns with their own personal opinions and views and that they do not or find it difficult to objectively assess media in order to form a non-partisan view of the election and how media influences it in the end.

It will likely show that social media is now the place where people go for information while legacy media is less influential today than it once was, which is why people tend to be going to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for information. It will likely reveal that both sides of the political aisle spread propaganda on social media and social media users lean towards those with whose views they most align. The interviews will probably also show that each side of the political aisle has its own base of social media followers and supporters and that people’s opinions are mainly formed not by media but rather by friends and family and cultural beliefs which tend to come from the home, formed when they are growing up.


It could be argued that Trump won in 2016 because he used free media (Twitter) to campaign and get his message out, thus undermining Clinton. However, she could have made effective use of social media as well—the difference between the two was the message: Trump’s message resonated with a diverse range of voters who had not previously all been incentivized to rally behind one candidate. Clinton’s message did not resonate beyond the core group of supporters on the Left, and then even they were split between Sanders and Clinton, with many supporters of the former feeling that the latter had robbed Sanders of the nomination. Trump, too, promoted this idea on his Twitter feed, accusing Clinton of numerous machinations—so much so that he had his diverse range of supporters chanting, “Lock her up!” at his campaign rallies.…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Allcott, Hunt, and Matthew Gentzkow. "Social media and fake news in the 2016 election." Journal of economic perspectives 31.2 (2017): 211-36.

Bandura, Albert. “Toward a psychology of human agency: Pathways and reflections. Perspectives on Psychological Science” 13.2 (2018): 130-136.

Bennett, W. Lance, and Steven Livingston. "The disinformation order: Disruptive communication and the decline of democratic institutions." European journal of communication 33.2 (2018): 122-139.

Cadwalladr, Carole, and Emma Graham-Harrison. "Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach." The guardian 17 (2018): 22.

Enli, Gunn. "Twitter as arena for the authentic outsider: exploring the social media campaigns of Trump and Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election." European journal of communication 32.1 (2017): 50-61.

Faris, Robert, et al. "Partisanship, propaganda, and disinformation: Online media and the 2016 US presidential election." Berkman Klein Center Research Publication 6 (2017).

Francia, Peter L. "Free media and Twitter in the 2016 presidential election: The unconventional campaign of Donald Trump." Social Science Computer Review 36.4 (2018): 440-455.

Grinberg, Nir, et al. "Fake news on Twitter during the 2016 US presidential election."  Science 363.6425 (2019): 374-378.

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