Most people make their political decisions based on impressions gained from the media. This lesson assesses the effect of media, especially newer forms of media, on the public’s political attitudes.
How would you describe your political attitude? Do you have a negative attitude toward most public officials? Do you typically follow issues and elections? Do you think the country is headed in the right direction? Do you usually vote?A political attitude is simply the way you think or feel about our government and related social and economic issues.
For example, many conservatives share a basic political attitude. In general, Republicans believe America’s long-standing principles, traditions and institutions should be maintained because they’ve afforded more freedom and prosperity than any other society in history.Liberals also share a common political attitude.
In general, Democrats believe America is responsible for certain economic, social and political injustices and therefore has the responsibility to correct unfairness using government action.Of course, many people believe a little of both, or something in-between. Often, our political attitudes fluctuate depending on the subject or issue. Perhaps you support affirmative action measures, but you’re against universal government-funded healthcare.
The Media’s Role
Where do you think your political attitudes come from? Is it based on your family, gender, or religion? These factors play an important role. Likely, however, the media plays an important role in shaping our political attitudes.Think, for a moment, of a politician you mostly trust and like. Let’s say the trusted figure is named ‘Tommy’. If you hear that Tommy is in favor of a particular issue, are you more likely to favor that issue yourself? If so, why?Keep in mind that many political decisions used to be made by political leaders in back rooms.
A political decision is any choice dealing with government affairs, structure or politics. The political leaders chose our political candidates, the hot political issues, and drove the political process. By the 1970s, candidates and officials commonly presented issues, and themselves, directly to the voters through the increasing use of television in politics.As a result, the voters began placing a higher value on the personality and character of candidates and officials.
If a voter likes a particular official, like Tommy, then that voter trusts the decisions Tommy makes. This is true even if Tommy is of a different political party affiliation. Rather than researching healthcare reform, the voter trusts that Tommy will make the right decision. The voter’s attitude on how to vote, volunteer and give money is shaped through the media’s coverage of Tommy.
Newer Forms of Media
Now let’s take a look beyond television. New media provides cheaper and easier ways to influence people’s political attitudes. New media includes Internet- and digital-based forms of mass communication, including social media. Many forms of new media have already influenced people to vote, volunteer and give money.
For example, the American Red Cross used Twitter to raise a record-breaking $8 million dollar plus in relief efforts after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.The convenience of new media is the main reason it plays an important role in shaping today’s political attitudes. New media is wide-ranging and offers:
- Immediate connection, which allows protests or political gatherings to be scheduled last minute and widely publicized through tweets or Facebook posts. The Tea Party often uses this method, as did organizers of recent street demonstrations in Iran. This connection also allows candidates to send messages directly to supporters, without depending on favorable media coverage.
- News you can choose, meaning the Internet allows voters to look at the sources and stories that appeal specifically to them, while ignoring other points of view.
- Sharing, which allows voters to distribute news themselves, as through ‘retweeting’ or reposting. When news comes from a friend or trusted colleague, voters are more likely to support the same point of view.
- Liking, which allows voters to simply click a ‘thumbs up’ in order to publicize their support of a candidate or issue.
- Donating, which better allows multiple donors to give smaller individual amounts to raise large overall totals.
For example, 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul raised $4.2 million online in just one day. The money came from more than 37,000 donors, despite the scarce media coverage of Paul’s campaign.
Let’s review. Political attitude describes the way you think or feel about our government and related social and economic issues. A political decision is any choice dealing with government affairs, structure or politics. We make our political decisions based on our political attitudes.
The media plays an important role in shaping our political attitudes. Television brought candidates and issues closer to the voters, and the voters began placing a higher value on the personality and character of candidates and officials.More recently, new media provides cheaper and easier ways to influence people’s political attitudes.
New media includes Internet- and digital-based forms of mass communication, including social media, and shapes political attitudes through:
- Immediate connection
- News you can choose
After this lesson, you should have the ability to:
- Explain the relationship between political attitude and political decision
- Identify the impact that increased television viewing had on political attitudes
- Define new media and describe its role in shaping political attitudes