Research

2012
Matthew A. Baum. 2012. “The Iraq Coalition of the Willing and (Politically) Able: Party Systems, the Press, and Public Influence on Foreign Policy.” American Journal of Political Science . Publisher's Version
Media outlets in multiparty electoral systems tend to report on a wider range of policy issues than media in two-party systems. They thus make more competing policy frames available to citizens. This suggests that a “free press” is insufficient to hold governments accountable. Rather, we should observe more challenges to the governments’ preferred frames and more politically aware citizens in multiparty democracies. Such citizens should thus be better equipped to hold their leaders accountable, relative to their counterparts in two-party democracies. I propose a mechanism through which democratic publics can sometimes constrain their leaders in foreign policy. I test hypotheses derived from my theory with cross-national data on the content of news coverage of Iraq, on public support for the war, and on decisions to contribute troops to the Iraq “Coalition of the Willing.” I find that citizens in countries with larger numbers of parties confronted more critical and diverse coverage of Iraq, while those with more widespread access to mass media were more likely to oppose the war and their nations likely to contribute fewer troops to the Coalition.
cotwsupplemental_appendix_finalversion.pdf
2011
Matthew A. Baum. 2011. “Media, Public Opinion, and Presidential Leadership .” In New Directions in Public Opinion. New York: Routledge. Publisher's Version
Matthew A. Baum. 2011. “Preaching to the Choir or Converting the Flock: Presidential Communication Strategies in the Age of Three Medias.” In iPolitics: Citizens, Elections, and Governing in the New Media Age. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press. Publisher's Version
Matthew A. Baum. 2011. “Red State, Blue State, Flu State: Media Self-Selection and Partisan Gaps in Swine Flu Vaccinations.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. Publisher's Version
Prevailing theories hold that U.S. public support for a war depends primarily on its degree of success, U.S. casualties, or conflict goals. Yet, research into the framing of foreign policy shows that public perceptions concerning each of these factors are often endogenous and malleable by elites. In this article, we argue that both elite rhetoric and the situation on the ground in the conflict affect public opinion, but the qualities that make such information persuasive vary over time and with circumstances. Early in a conflict, elites (especially the president) have an informational advantage that renders public perceptions of “reality” very elastic. As events unfold and as the public gathers more information, this elasticity recedes, allowing alternative frames to challenge the administration’s preferred frame. We predict that over time the marginal impact of elite rhetoric and reality will decrease, although a sustained change in events may eventually restore their influence. We test our argument through a content analysis of news coverage of the Iraq war from 2003 through 2007, an original survey of public attitudes regarding Iraq, and partially disaggregated data from over 200 surveys of public opinion on the war.
Matthew A. Baum and Angela Jamison. 2011. “Soft News and The Four Oprah Effects.” In Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and the Media. Oxford University Press. Publisher's Version
2010
Matthew A. Baum, Ann Crigler, Marion Just, and Jesse Mills. 2010. “Emotions, the Horserace Metaphor and the 2008 Presidential Campaign”. Publisher's Version
Philip K. Potter and Matthew A. Baum. 2010. “Democratic Peace, Domestic Audience Costs, and Political Communication.” Political Communication . Publisher's Version

This article addresses a gap in the literature connecting the empirical observation of a democratic peace to a theoretical mechanism based on domestic audience costs. We argue that the link between these literatures lies in the way leaders reach he ultimate source of audience costs – the public. The audience cost argument implicitly requires a free press because, without it, the public has no way of reliably assessing the success or failure of a leader’s foreign policy. Hence leaders can credibly commit through audience costs only when the media is an effective and independent actor. The implication is that while leaders might gain at home by controlling the media, they do so at the cost of their capacity to persuade foreign leaders that their “hands are tied.”

Matthew A. Baum and Tim Groeling. 2010. “Reality Asserts Itself: Public Opinion on Iraq and the Elasticity of Reality.” International Organization . Publisher's Version
Prevailing theories hold that U.S. public support for a war depends primarily on its degree of success, U.S. casualties, or conflict goals. Yet, research into the framing of foreign policy shows that public perceptions concerning each of these factors are often endogenous and malleable by elites. In this article, we argue that both elite rhetoric and the situation on the ground in the conflict affect public opinion, but the qualities that make such information persuasive vary over time and with circumstances. Early in a conflict, elites (especially the president) have an informational advantage that renders public perceptions of “reality” very elastic. As events unfold and as the public gathers more information, this elasticity recedes, allowing alternative frames to challenge the administration’s preferred frame. We predict that over time the marginal impact of elite rhetoric and reality will decrease, although a sustained change in events may eventually restore their influence. We test our argument through a content analysis of news coverage of the Iraq war from 2003 through 2007, an original survey of public attitudes regarding Iraq, and partially disaggregated data from over 200 surveys of public opinion on the war.
2009
Matthew A. Baum and Marion Just. 2009. “Bandwagon an Underdog Effects in the 2008 Presidential Primary Campaign: A Survey Experiment ”. Publisher's Version
Matthew A. Baum and Tim Groeling. 2009. “Journalists’ Incentives and Media Coverage of Elite Foreign Policy Evaluations.” Conflict Management and Peace Science. Publisher's Version

Scholars have long recognized that public support for presidential uses of military force depends critically on elite support. Similarly, scholars have argued that the media “index” their coverage of foreign policy to reflect the responses of partisan (particularly congressional) elites. We argue that journalists' choices also play an important role by systematically (and predictably) skewing the elite rhetoric presented to the public. In particular, we argue that criticism of the president by his own party is disproportionately likely to be broadcast -- particularly in unified government -- and that such criticism should be exceptionally persuasive to citizens. To separate the media’s independent effect from that of the actual tenor of elite discourse, as presented in the news, we investigate all interviews with members of Congress on network television Sunday morning political interview shows between 1980 and 2003. We then determined which comments were selected for inclusion on the evening news and compare the characteristics of such comments to those that were not selected, both during periods immediately following major U.S. uses of military force and during “normal” periods. We find that the evening news presents a biased sample of elite rhetoric, heavily over-representing criticism of the president by his own party, while under-representing supportive rhetoric. Our findings indicate that future studies of public opinion and U.S. foreign policy must take into account the intervening role of journalists, who function as strategic, self-interested gatekeepers of public information regarding foreign policy events.

 

 

You can download a pdf version of the paper, here.

Matthew A. Baum and Tim Groeling. 2009. “New Media and the Polarization of American Political Discourse.” Political Communication . Publisher's Version

Scholars of political communication have long examined newsworthiness by focusing on the “gatekeepers,” or organizations involved in newsgathering (Lewin 1947, White 1950, Sigal 1973, Gans 1979). However, in recent years these gatekeeper organizations have increasingly been joined or even supplanted by “new media” competitors, including cable news, talk radio, and even amateur bloggers. The standards by which this new class of gatekeepers evaluates news are at best partially explained by prior studies focused on “professional” journalists. In this study, we seek to correct this oversight. We do so by content analyzing five online news sources – including wire service, cable news, and blog sites – in order to compare their gatekeeping decisions in the four months prior, and approximately three weeks immediately following, the 2006 midterm election. To determine each day’s major political news, we collected all stories from Reuters’ and AP’s “Top Political News” sections. We then investigated whether a given story was also chosen to appear on each wire’s Top News page (indicating greater perceived newsworthiness than those that were not chosen) and compare the wires’ editorial choices to those of more partisan blogs (from the left: DailyKos.com, and from the right: FreeRepublic.com) and cable outlets (FoxNews.com). We find evidence of greater partisan filtering on the latter three web sources, and relatively greater reliance on traditional newsworthiness criteria on the news wires.

 

You can download this article, in pdf format, here.

Matthew A. Baum and Tim J. Groeling. 2009. War Stories: The Causes and Consequences of Public Views of War. Paperback, Pp. 368. Princeton University Press. Publisher's Version

How does the American public formulate its opinions about U.S. foreign policy and military engagement abroad? War Stories argues that the media systematically distort the information the public vitally needs to determine whether to support such initiatives, for reasons having more to do with journalists' professional interests than the merits of the policies, and that this has significant consequences for national security. Matthew Baum and Tim Groeling develop a "strategic bias" theory that explains the foreign-policy communication process as a three-way interaction among the press, political elites, and the public, each of which has distinct interests, biases, and incentives.

Do media representations affect public support for the president and faithfully reflect events in times of diplomatic crisis and war? How do new media--especially Internet news and more partisan outlets--shape public opinion, and how will they alter future conflicts? In answering such questions, Baum and Groeling take an in-depth look at media coverage, elite rhetoric, and public opinion during the Iraq war and other U.S. conflicts abroad. They trace how traditional and new media select stories, how elites frame and sometimes even distort events, and how these dynamics shape public opinion over the course of a conflict.

Most of us learn virtually everything we know about foreign policy from media reporting of elite opinions. In War Stories, Baum and Groeling reveal precisely what this means for the future of American foreign policy.

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2008
Matthew A. Baum and Tim Groeling. 2008. “Crossing the Water’s Edge: Elite Rhetoric, Media Coverage, and the Rally-Round-the-Flag Phenomenon.” Journal of Politics . Publisher's Version

The most widely accepted explanation for the rally-round-the-flag phenomenon is a relative absence of elite criticism in the news during the initial stages of foreign crises.  In this study we argue that the nature and extent of elite debate may matter less than media coverage of any such debate, and that these often systematically diverge.  We also argue that not all messages in this debate matter equally for public opinion. Rather, the persuasiveness of elite messages depends on their credibility, which, in turn, arises out of an interaction between the sender, receiver, and message. Hence, only by understanding the interactions between elites, the public, and the press can we account for variations in public responses to presidential foreign policy initiatives. We test our theory by examining public opinion data and network news coverage of all major U.S. uses of military force from 1979 to 2003. We content analyze all congressional evaluations of the president and the executive branch of government from the three network evening newscasts within 60-day time periods centered on the start date of each use of force. Our results offer strong support for the theory.

 

 

You can download this paper, in pdf format, here.

Matthew A. Baum and Phil Gussin. 2008. “In the Eye of the Beholder: How Information Shortcuts Shape Individual Perceptions of Bias in the Media.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science. Publisher's Version

Research has shown that human beings are biased information processors. This study investigates an important potential example of biased information processing: when ex ante assessments of a media outlet’s ideological orientation “cause” individual’s to perceive bias.  We conduct an experiment in which subjects evaluated the content of a news report about the 2004 presidential election identified as originating from CNN, FOX or a fictional TV station.  Our results suggest that in an increasingly fragmented media marketplace, individuals not only distinguish between media outlets but, more importantly, outlet “brand names,” and the reputations they carry, function as heuristics, heavily influencing perceptions of bias in content. Individuals sometimes “create” bias, even where none exists. This suggests that assessments of media content operate on a more nuanced level than has been captured in previous research.

 

You can download this paper, in pdf format, along with a replication dataset here.

Matthew A. Baum and Philip B. K. Potter. 2008. “The Relationships Between Mass Media, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis.” Annual Review of Political Science. Publisher's Version

Democracy requires that citizens’ opinions play some role in shaping policy outcomes, including in foreign policy. Yet, while the literature on public opinion and foreign policy has made great progress over the past several decades, scholars have reached no consensus concerning what the public thinks, or thinks about, with respect to foreign policy, how it comes to hold those opinions, or whether those opinion do or should influence foreign policy. In this chapter, we first review the extensive gains in scholarly knowledge in the area of public opinion and foreign policy over the past several decades (with a particular emphasis on relatively recent work). We then suggest a framework, based on the concept of market equilibrium, aimed at synthesizing the various disparate research programs that together constitute the literature on public opinion and foreign policy. To do so, we incorporate a third strategic actor, the mass media, which we believe play a critical role alongside citizens and elites in shaping public attitudes about, and influence upon, foreign policy. Our goal is to clarify the multifaceted relationships between these actors and foreign policy outcomes.

 

You can download the current version of this chapter, in pdf format, here.

Matthew A. Baum and Tim Groeling. 2008. “Shot by the Messenger: Partisan Cues and Public Opinion Regarding National Security and War.” Political Behavior . Publisher's Version

Research has shown that messages of intra-party harmony tend to be ignored by the news media, while internal disputes, especially within the governing party, generally receive prominent coverage. We examine how messages of party conflict and cooperation affect public opinion regarding national security, as well as whether and how the reputations of media outlets matter. We develop a typology of partisan messages in the news, determining their likely effects based on the characteristics of the speaker, listener, news outlet, and message content. We hypothesize that criticism of the president by his fellow partisan elites should be exceptionally damaging (especially on a “conservative” media outlet), while opposition party praise of the president should be the most helpful (especially on a “liberal” outlet). We test our hypotheses through an experiment and a national survey on attitudes regarding the Iraq War. The results show that credible communication (i.e., “costly” rhetoric harmful to a party) is more influential than “cheap talk” in moving public opinion. Ironically, news media outlets perceived as ideologically “hostile” can actually enhance the credibility of certain messages relative to “friendly” news sources.

 

 

 

You can download this paper, in pdf format, here.

2007
Matthew A. Baum. 2007. “Soft News and Foreign Policy: How Expanding the Audience Changes the Policies.” Japanese Journal of Political Science. Publisher's Version

Since the 1980s, the mass media have changed the way they cover major political stories, like foreign policy crises, and, as a consequence, in what the public learns and believes about these events. More media outlets cover major political events than in the past, including the entertainment-oriented soft news media. When they do cover a political story, soft news shows do so differently than the traditional news media, focusing more on “human drama,” and especially the character and motivations of decision-makers, as well as individual stories of heroism or tragedy, and less on the political or strategic context, or substance, of policy debates. Consequently, many Americans who previously ignored politics now attend to some information about major political events, like wars, via the soft news media. Less politically engaged Americans who learn about major events from the soft news media are more suspicious of the motives of political leaders and less supportive of their policies than their non-soft-news-consuming, or more-politically-engaged counterparts.

Soft news, in turn, is gaining popularity around the world. Consequently, these changes have important implications for democratic politics both in the United States and abroad. Most importantly, a large number of relatively apolitical, and hence particularly persuadable, potential voters are now tuning in to politics via soft news outlets. This gives politicians an incentive to develop strategies for reaching out to soft news consumers. Such individuals care less about the nuances of policy and more about the personality of leaders and any sensational human drama that a policy, like a war, entails. Soft news consumers care less about geopolitics than about body bags. Politicians who want their votes are therefore likely to emphasize body bags rather than geopolitics. In short, the “new” media environment is changing both the style and substance of politics in democracies.

 

 

You can download this article, in pdf format, here.

2006
Matthew A. Baum. 2006. “Hard and Soft News.” In Encyclopedia of Media and Politics. Washington D.C. Congressional Quarterly Press.
Matthew A. Baum and Samuel Kernell. 2006. “How Cable Ended the Golden Age of Presidential Television: From 1969 to 2006.” In The Principles and Practice of American Politics. Congressional Quarterly Press. Publisher's Version
Matthew A. Baum and Angela S. Jamison. 2006. “The Oprah Effect: How Soft News Helps Inattentive Citizens Vote Consistently .” The Journal of Politics. Publisher's Version

Do the news media provide voters with sufficient information to function as competent democratic citizens? Many have answered “no,” citing as evidence the proliferation of entertainment-oriented “soft news.” Yet, public affairsoriented “hard” news is often unappealing to politically inattentive individuals. We argue that news “quality” depends upon how well it enables citizens to determine which candidate best fits their own preferences. In this regard, for politically inattentive citizens, we argue that soft news is more efficient than traditional hard news. Drawing on the logic of low-information rationality, we derive a series of hypotheses, which we test using the 2000 National Election Study.We find that politically inattentive individuals who consumed daytime talk shows (a popular form of soft news) were more likely than their nonconsuming, inattentive counterparts to vote for the candidate who best represented their self-described preferences. This suggests soft news can facilitate voting “competence” among at least some citizens.

 

Slate.com editor-at-large Jack Shafer wrote an article about this study, You can find it here. "UCLA Today" also did a feature story on the study, which you can find here.

You can download this paper, in pdf format, here.

supplemental appendix for this paper, including expert survey questionnaire, NES variable definitions and coding, additional discussion of several concepts addressed in the paper, as well as a variety of robustness, reliability and validity tests, is available, in pdf format, here.

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