Presidential Candidate Images

Article excerpt

* Presidential Candidate Images. Kenneth L. Hacker, ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2004. 288 pp. $32.95 pbk.

Kenneth Hacker gathers a diverse collection of voices to address the conceptual ambiguity surrounding candidate image research. Hacker acknowledges a long history of inquiry into this topic that encompasses a variety of theoretical understandings and therefore different methodological designs. To Hacker's credit, he incorporates multiple research traditions into this edited volume rather than assuming the superiority of one methodology. Presidential Candidate Images does not attempt to resolve the theoretical debate on candidate images as much as it seeks to outline the contours of the discussion and suggest new areas of inquiry that could move this debate forward.

The obstacles political communication scholars face when operationalizing seemingly intuitive concepts is not unique to candidate image research. Framing scholarship and, more recently, research investigating the impact of soft news confront this same ambiguity of key terms. These types of ambiguities can stall scholarly advancement, but they also yield vigorous debate that challenges taken-forgranted assumptions and thereby creates a rich body of discussion. Hacker's volume gains credibility by acknowledging the complexity of candidate image constructs and by interrogating the issue/image dichotomy that offers an otherwise simple resolution to this conceptual debate. The book also offers the encouraging suggestion that scholars use dual-process models as a part of image research rather than treating image formation as a static concept.

One challenge associated with Hacker's decision to view this debate through such a broad lens is that it leaves the overall volume with an uneven feel. Hacker organizes the collection of research in a sequential manner, beginning with an extensive, albeit somewhat dated, introduction to prior research on this topic, which is followed by a series of chapters examining current scholarship on candidate images. Finally, the book offers commentaries about future directions that scholars should take with their research. While some of the volume's authors do reference other research that appears in the book, there is not enough integration among the studies to allow the reader to confidently draw larger conclusions about candidate image research.

Hacker acknowledges in his introduction to the book that his earlier edited volume on the same topic was criticized for failing to incorporate sufficient empirical data. The current volume is seasoned with such data, but these efforts typically present findings that are culled from multiple studies and compressed together to provide an overview of a specific topic area. In certain cases, such as the book's worthwhile chapter about political advertising and candidate image, this compression leaves the reader wanting more specific information about the individual studies due to the strength of the research. …