Current Issue Summary
June 2022 (Vol. 62, Issue 2)
How Do Information Sources Shape Voters’ Political Views? Comparing Mainstream and Social-Media Effects on Democrats, Republicans and the Undecided
This study compares the effects of mainstream media and social media on U.S. consumers who vote Democrat, Republican or who are undecided. Its findings point to the powerful potential influences of social media, especially on undecided voters, as determining the outcome of presidential elections. “Because the credibility of traditional news media has been eroding in recent decades—in part because media have become increasingly partisan—audience selective exposure and processing has been extended to media as well and likely has affected media credibility,” researchers Anil Mathur (Hofstra University) and George P. Moschis (Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand) observe. Their work also provides political marketing strategies to influence potential voters.
Mathur and Moschis based their research on a sample of 629 registered voters, among whom party loyalty was identified as 207 loyal Democrats, 157 loyal Republicans and 265 who were neither liberal nor conservative but were undecided. Issue importance was gauged (1 = not important to 4 = very important) in terms of whether the following would factor into their decision to vote for a presidential candidate: environment, climate control, immigration, economy, abortion, gun control, foreign policy, health care, crime, terrorism and the candidate’s credibility or likability.
Other analysis included measures of political ideology, knowledge of public affairs and the value placed on sources of political information. There were also two metrics for changes in political ideology—one measuring change to a liberal ideology and another measuring shift toward a conservative position. The researchers also measured for changes in beliefs (the extent to which respondents were aware of any changes over the past five to 10 years in the issues cited above), and of influences of agenda-setting effects in mainstream media.
Among their findings:
- Social media is likely to have the greatest effect on undecided voters.
- The various types of media and personal information sources that Republican and undecided (potential) voters find helpful in shaping their political views may be more effective in promoting a liberal rather than a conservative ideology.
- Media might be more effective in changing the importance of an issue that favors one candidate over another than in attempting to change a candidate’s position.
- Undecided voters might more likely develop a favorable attitude for a candidate who presents facts about their previous record on a certain issue, than for one who promises a favorable course of actions.