Course & Code
Media Politics and Political Communication
Question: To what extent does the modern media environment (structure, culture and content) contribute to political cynicism?
The role of media in politics varies from conveying political information to being a watchdog of the politics, and political processes and participants. According to Rahal (2016), the fundamental duty of the media is to acquire current and most accurate intelligence of the political and to immediately disclose them. Therefore, the media thrives on disclosures and should disclose the truth without shying from the implications. Therefore, the role of the media in the political ambit relates to the moral duties it has traditionally sought to pursue to promote democracy (Fu et al. 2011). Still, the media may contribute to political cynicism or efficacy. Contingent on the type of media, media potentially affects voters’ behaviour negatively or positively. When voters consume great amounts of political information, their political efficacy tended to potentially affect their faith in politics, politicians, and political institutions (Fu et al. 2011). This essay argues that media consumption influences the behaviours of voters by leading to either political cynicism or political efficacy. Consequently, while media consumption has relationship with political cynicism, the negative or positive aspects of the relationship are contingent on the communication medium and the type and quality of information conveyed. This paper, therefore, examines the extent to which the modern media environment contributes to political cynicism.
Media consumption influences the behaviours of voters by leading to either political cynicism or political efficacy. Opdycke et al. (2013) describes cynicism as the extent of negative perceptions toward the government, such as the government is not properly functioning or fulfils one’s personal expectations. Essentially, political cynicism shows the feelings of distrust that individuals within the public have in politicians and politics, as well as institutions of the government. It is an exact opposite of political efficacy, which refers to the level of faith that the public feel they have on the government’s institutions, political and politicians (Fu et al. 2011).
Today, the prevalence of new media, such as internet and social media, have augmented accessibility of political information (Li 2015). In a 2011 study Pew Research, it was established that television prevailed as the ultimate information source, followed by the internet and newspaper in that order. It was also found that internet was the fastest growing information source (Opdycke et al. 2013). Within the context of politics, studies have established that the media consumption has significant impacts on political cynicism and efficacy. Opdycke et al. (2013) describes media consumption as occurring when people obtain information from communication media like the internet, newspaper, radio, magazines and television. Current studies support the idea that media consumption has relationship with political cynicism. At the same time, the negative or positive aspects of the relationship are contingent on the communication medium.
Therefore, newspapers contributed to reduced political cynicism. In a review by Opdycke et al. (2013), the researchers established that newspapers had a relationship with political efficacy, as it was linked to greater voter participation. Hence, it could be reasoned that newspapers tend to reduce political cynicism. According to Drew and Weaver (2006), during the 2004 election, newspapers and television prevailed as the chief media and were linked to greater likelihood to vote. The researchers further observed that focusing on to print publications on politics is as well linked to a greater intent to vote. Drew and Weaver (2006) explained that among the key explanations for the newspaper link to reduced political cynicism is because many of the study participants viewed them to be in-depth medium. In related study, Lee (2005) also established that people who depended on in-depth media tended to develop greater trust in governance. Additionally, Lee’s (2005) findings supported the idea that in-depth media potentially increased political efficacy and reduced political cynicism. In a later review of literature by Opdycke et al. (2013), the researchers concluded that newspapers potentially reduced political cynicism as they disseminate higher knowledge.
On the other hand, broadcast media like television and radio contribute to greater political cynicism. Opdycke’s et al. (2013) research provided empirical evidence that showed that individuals who acquired information from sources they viewed to be unimportant, including news and television, tended to remain unaffected by these media. Instead, they showed greater cynicism. Opdycke’s et al. (2013) explains that the reason radio and television are viewed to be important is because they do not tend to report in-depth political news. As earlier established by Lee (2005), television has shallow coverage of political news and as a result leads to greater levels of political cynicism.
The Internet encourages both political cynicism and efficacy at the same time. Conversely, the Internet produced contrasting results on its impacts on political cynicism. As established by Lee (2005), the Internet encouraged political cynicism and efficacy at the same time. A similar view was promoted by Opdycke’s et al. (2013), when they argued that the Internet did not actually reduce political cynicism although it tended to increase people’s knowledge regarding political candidates and issues. Opdycke’s et al. (2013) explained that a likely explanation for this is that the internet supplies users with supplementary information regarding advertisements, which usually contrast viewpoints, as a result creating disinterest in the role of politicians in a political system. Han (2008) also established that exposure to the Internet has no relationship with voter participation or political cynicism. Despite this, individuals who readily and directly sought the Internet to acquire political information were likely to be inclined to participate in politics, and as a result reduced political cynicism.
Media content and culture
The intricacies in the role of the media in voters’ political decision-making have, however, contributed to inconsistencies in research findings. According to Norris (2000), some scholars have tended to ignore the effects of the media on motivating political efficacy. Similarly, Opdycke et al. (2013) contended that political cynicism is not a well understood concept and that it is usually oversimplified. Some researchers like Fu et al. (2011) have, however, suggested that the effect of media on political cynicism depends on the type and quality of information. Though some communication media like television, radio, and newspapers have been found to lead to political cynicism, there are those like newspaper that lead to political efficacy. Opdycke et al. (2013), however, argues that it is the type and quality of information that contributes to political cynicism or political efficacy.
Negative political campaigns contribute to political cynicism. According to Fu et al. (2011), cynicism is largely attributed to the negative political campaign tactics used by the modern news media. Fu et al. (2011) went ahead to blame televised news for consistently emphasising the images of the political candidates instead for the more substantive societal problems highlighted in the political campaigns. In a study of the likely factors contributing to increased levels of cynicism, Opdycke et al. (2013) found that the negative political campaign strategies used by the media tend to contribute to cynicism. Despite this, such an attribution is well opposed by other scholars. Studies have suggested that simply blaming the media and political campaigns is an oversimplification. The modern news media has concentrated on image coverage. This has in return eroded the confidence of the public in politics (McCombs et al. 2011). In a related study, Fu et al. (2011) established that news framing directly contributes to public cynicism, particularly national politics and indirectly contributes to greater public confidence in modern media. Opdycke et al. (2013) established that media cynicism has a close relationship to political cynicism.
Negative political campaigns contribute to political cynicism as they are fundamentally unethical and less informative. Scholars like Fu et al. (2011) have also argued that political disaffection is an intricate subject consisting of many sweeping statements intended to throw blame at the modern media for causing voter apathy. While Fu et al. (2011) reasons that negative political campaigns are fundamentally unethical and less informative, studies have showed that negative political campaigns do not automatically dampen political participation and that it may actually lead to higher voter turnout during an electoral process. Therefore, while the public may show negative attitude towards news coverage of politics by the media, it does not necessarily mean that the public will not participate in a voting process. Related studies have also indicated that support for third party candidacies contributes to less trust in governance and politics as third party candidates tend to be cynical of the political system. In return, this may activate more cynical responses from citizens who are associated with third party candidates (Opdycke et al. 2013).
Media messages that convey the message of policy dissatisfaction contribute to political cynicism. Current literature has also showed the complex character of political cynicism in addition to its implications on the political processes. According to Opdycke et al. (2013), disinterest in policy recommendations that two leading political parties propose contribute to cynicism. On the other hand, Fu et al. (2011) contended that issue-oriented cynicism is applicable to certain voters although it may not necessarily relate to individuals who, in essence, criticize how the sitting politicians undertake their jobs. In such situations, Fu et al. (2011) argue that cynicism potentially arises as a result of policy dissatisfaction among voters who are policy-oriented and disagree with the policy approaches of the incumbent politicians among individuals who are incumbent-oriented. According to Opdycke et al. (2013), policy disaffection is essentially complex and media do not automatically dampen voters from being participants in a political system. Indeed, research shows that negative campaign tactics used by the modern-day mass media does really encourage consumption of political information, as well as a tendency of the citizens to take part in politics.
As established, media consumption influences the behaviours of voters by contributing to either political cynicism or efficacy. While media consumption has relationship with political cynicism, the negative or positive aspects of the relationship are contingent on the communication medium and the type and quality of information conveyed. In which case, although communication mediums may lead to political cynicism, there are those that lead to political efficacy. As found, newspapers contribute to reduced political efficacy. On the other hand, broadcast media like television and radio contribute to greater political cynicism. Despite this, individuals who readily and directly sought the internet to acquire political information were likely to be inclined to participate in politics, and as a result reduced political cynicism. The effect of media on political cynicism also depends on the type and quality of information. Negative political campaigns contribute to political cynicism. Negative political campaigns also contribute to political cynicism as they are fundamentally unethical and less informative. Additionally, media messages that convey the message of policy dissatisfaction contribute to political cynicism.
Drew, D, & Weaver, D 2006, “Voter learning in the 2004 presidential election: Did the media matter?” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, vol 83, pp.25-42
Fu, H, Mou, Y, Miller, M & Jalette, G 2011, «Reconsidering Political Cynicism and Political Involvement: A Test of Antecedents,» American Communication Journal, vol 13 no 2, pp.44-61
Han, G 2008, “New media use, sociodemographics, and voter turnout in the 2000 presidential election,” Mass Communication & Society, vol 11, pp.62-81.
Lee, T 2005, “Media effects on political disengagement: A multiple-media approach,” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, vol 82, pp.416–433
Li, X 2015, Emerging Media, New York, Routledge
McCombs, M, Holbert, L & Kiousis, S 2011, The News and Public Opinion: Media Effects on Civic Life, Cambridge, Polity
Norris, P 2000, A Virtuous Circle: Political Communications in Post-Industrial Societies, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Opdycke, K, Segura, P & Vasquez, A 2013, «The Effects of Political Cynicism, Political Information Efficacy and Media Consumption on Intended Voter Participation,» Colloquy, vol. 9, pp. 75-9
Rahal, E 2016, Good Cynicism: The Civic Potentials of Political Comedy and The Reasons for Its Absence on Colombian Television, viewed 26 Sept 2016, <http://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=8872544&fileOId=8877567>