How the News Media Fail American Voters: Causes, Consequences, and Remedies

How the News Media Fail American Voters: Causes, Consequences, and Remedies

How the News Media Fail American Voters: Causes, Consequences, and Remedies

How the News Media Fail American Voters: Causes, Consequences, and Remedies


It is often noted that the public is frustrated with the news media. But what do American voters really think about how the media present political information? While studies have examined how the news shapes opinions as well as what people respond to and remember, this is the first book to provide an in-depth analysis of how voters use and evaluate the news media in political elections and the impact these trends have on their use of the news.

Kenneth Dautrich and Thomas H. Hartley performed a four-wave national panel survey of voters during the 1996 presidential campaign. They found that although voters are profoundly dissatisfied with the usefulness of news in helping them make decisions, they are unlikely to stop using the news media or switch media (from network news to public broadcasting, for instance). Thus the media have little incentive to adjust to the needs or wishes of voters.

Here is an important contribution to the debate about the responsibilities news media raging among of the pundits and policymakers.


In this book we provide an evaluation of the institutional performance of the news media in its coverage of U.S. presidential elections. Using the 1996 election as a case study, the book scrutinizes how the U.S. electorate used the news media throughout the campaign, and how it evaluated the news media's performance. A large-scale, election-long panel study of American voters from January through November of 1996 served as the main source of data in our examination of Americans' use and opinion of election news coverage.

We explain how voters use and evaluate the news media, and discuss the impact of these evaluations on the electorate's continued use of the news. Our approach differs from most recent work in political communications, which focuses on questions such as how much information is needed (Popkin 1991), how citizens learn from the news media and election campaigns (Graber 1988; Neuman, Just, and Crigler 1992), what information is paid attention to and when (Krosnick 1988), what is remembered (Graber 1988), how political information mediates the impact of news (Zaller 1991), how news influences opinions (Iyengar 1991; Iyengar and Kinder 1987), and how voters use the media to construct a framework for the electoral environment (Just, et. al, 1996). Earlier research in this area recognized the potentials and limits of mass media's effectiveness as a provider of information, but it did not sufficiently explore the extent to which the voters themselves perceive that the quality of the news is high or low. Nor did earlier research explore the impact that perceptions of performance have on voters' future use of the news media.

Two important assumptions about U.S. politics provide justification for . . .

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