Sam Norton

A&E Editor


As the presidential race comes closer and closer, the push for receiving votes becomes greater. It’s up to the public to choose who will be the next President of the United States—Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? These choices are made in regards to the voters’ beliefs and party preference. But does the media play a role in helping voters determine what vote to cast?

Associate Professor of Political Science Michael Welsh said, “There’s enough voters that are influenced by the media that it influences elections.” According to Welsh, there is a large number of people who only vote for their party, however, there is a small percentage of people who can be swayed by the media’s representation of the presidential candidates.

“There are people who know how to evaluate a policy position of a candidate and frame that within their own ideologies and decide whether this candidate suits them or the other one does. They have an ideology in their head and they look out into the world and make a selection of candidates based on that ideology,” Welsh said. “To those people candidates are kind of like a black box. It doesn’t really matter what they look like, or how they sound, or what part of the country they are from, they pick based on issues. But the number of people that think that way are very small.” The small percentage of people who are unsure of who they are going to vote for vote based on information that is of less value than policy positions.

This type of information is called heuristics, Welsh said. Heuristics is a way of getting information out there in a way that involves less effort and energy, and the most solid heuristic example is a political party, Welsh said.

“If it is an average news cycle and the array of news issues that are being debated are run of the mill they are going to break according to heuristics like parties,” Welsh said.

However, for those people who are unsure of who they are going to vote for, the media plays a huge role in helping the voter decide who to vote. “Negative ads in particular are much more memorable than a positive ad. They seem more factual to the viewer and listener because they make claims,” Welsh said.

Rose Kundanis, professor of journalism, said, “The images are there, the negative stuff is there, the lies are there, but on both sides,” she said, “The only solution is an informed citizenry.”

“There are lies on both sides but you got to figure out who is telling the truth and whether that truth is really what you want in the White House, in the Senate, in the Congress, and in the Legislature,” Kundanis said. What contributes most to these lies are political satire shows such as The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. These shows depict the top headlines in the political world; however, the problem with this is that some may not know the facts behind the satire.

“There has been research done on the Colbert Report. The problem is that he is putting himself in the position of acting as a conservative Republican and all the things he says are from that point of view. But what people don’t understand is that that is not his point of view,” Kundanis said.

However, shows like The Daily Show and the Colbert Report do not affect every audience member. Senior Luke Hebert said that these shows don’t influence his vote, they are purely there for entertainment value.

“They [the Colbert Report and the Daily Show] make fun of the general media. Even though they’re leaning left, they’re pretty neutral,” Hebert said. Sophomore Julia Pinette said that she is not influenced by the media because both presidential candidates are portrayed both negatively and positively in the eyes of the media. “They [Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert] make fun of everyone pretty equally,” Pinette said.

“I think that for their audience [shows like The Daily Show and the Colbert Report] the audience already agrees with tone of the show. They have a limited role in swaying people,” Welsh said. But when deciding whom to vote for, that vote is all dependent on deciphering what information is valid or invalid.

“The problem with going anywhere is knowing whether or not this is valid information, meaning this is information that has gone through some kind of fact checking or whether it is simply someone’s opinion. The most entertaining news is someone’s opinion,” Kundanis said.

And for most, what is entertaining are the images and facts presented that create a stereotype. “Negative ads are falsifiable. If someone presents something to you that is falsifiable it appeals to your intellect more than non-falsifiable information,” Welsh said, “Facts are sort of falsifiable claims. That’s why negative ads are more attractive—they tend to say something outlandish or horrible about the candidate, but nonetheless falsifiable.”

The images that advertisements present about the presidential candidates are ones that have the potential to become embedded in the minds of voters and if voters aren’t careful; they have the power to control actions.

“The way we move from the media images to our attitudes to our actions is a very complicated road and I’m afraid that nobody has quite figured it out because human beings are complicated creatures,” Kundanis said.

The only way to ensure that the images the media presents about the presidential candidates isn’t the one voters base their vote off of is to make sure voters are staying informed and voting in favor of their political beliefs and policies.

“The Kerry-Bush election exit polls showed that people were voting about security—who is going to keep us safer? The Obama election exit polls showed people were voting about the economy. If I were to guess about exit polls and what is bringing people in—I think economy is going to be big and also I think you will find that women are going to be voting about reproductive reasons,” Welsh said.

“If you value that vote first of all you don’t ignore the vote and second of all you don’t walk into a voting booth without having done your homework,” Kundanis said.

In order to do that, it is important to separate the real world from the false reality that the media advertises.


Sam Norton can be contacted at


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