In an effort to show themselves as “regular guys,” the 2000 presidential election found presidential aspirants commiserating with Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O'Donnell, Queen Latifah and Regis Philbin, trading one-liners with Jay Leno and David Letterman, discussing rap music with MTV's youthful viewers and even courting the kid (or perhaps parent) vote on Nickelodeon. This study is a preliminary assessment of the impact of entertainment-oriented talk show coverage of presidential politics, using the 2000 election as a case study. I consider why entertainment-oriented TV talk shows might choose to cover presidential politics, why candidates choose to appear on talk shows, and who is likely to be the primary audience for such coverage. This discussion yields a series of hypotheses concerning the effects of talk show coverage of presidential politics on public views of the candidates and the campaign. I test my hypotheses through a content analysis of campaign coverage by entertainment-oriented talk shows, traditional political talk shows, and national news campaign coverage, as well as through a series of statistical analyses employing the 2000 NES. I find that talk show coverage of presidential politics does indeed influence voter attitudes. In particular, net of partisan preferences and a variety of other demographic and political factors, voters who rely primarily on entertainment-oriented TV talk shows as a source of campaign information are more likely to find the opposition candidate “likeable,” as well as to cross party lines and vote for him, relative to their more politically aware counterparts who pay closer attention to traditional news outlets.
This article is available for download from JSTOR here.
You can download a zip archive containing the 2000 NES variable definitions and re-coding, as well as the content analysis data and coding form, from this article here.
Building on recent work in evolutionary psychology, we predict substantial gender-related differences in demand for scandalous political news. We argue that individuals’ self-images can alter their motivation to seek information about potential sexual competitors and mates, even when those figures are “virtual”—appearing in mass media. Individuals perceiving themselves as attractive will seek negative news about attractive same-gender individuals, whereas individuals perceiving themselves as unattractive will seek negative information about the opposite gender. We test our hypotheses in three ways. First, we investigate partially disaggregated national opinion data regarding news attention. Second, we conduct an experiment in which we asked participants to choose the two most interesting stories from a menu of headlines. We varied the gender and party affiliation of the individual featured in the story. Each participant saw aheadline promoting a DUI arrest of an attractive male or female “rising star” from one of the two parties. Finally, we repeat the experiment with a national sample, this time also varying the valence of the tabloid story. We find strong correlations between respondents’ self-image and their likelihood of seeking and distributing positive or negative information about “virtual” competitors and mates.