The Media and Voters in Presidential Primaries
A common concern of scholars when assessing the current nominating system involves the news media's influence on voters in presidential primaries. 1 The general view is that since voters in primaries are not well informed about the candidates, they become dependent on the news media's treatment of the contenders when making decisions. Gary Orren and Nelson Polsby ( 1987), for instance, suggest that because voters in primaries have less information about candidates than their counterparts in the general election, they "are more susceptible . . . to the stories the media choose to emphasize in their news coverage" (p. 4). F. Christopher Arterton ( 1984) echoes a similar concern, arguing that the news media's coverage of contenders "may indirectly suggest to voters which candidates they should consider supporting" (p. 7). The rapid rise (or fall) of contenders like McGovern, Carter, Bush, and Hart seems to offer support for these assessments.
This perceived influence has led some scholars to suggest that journalists, not voters in primaries, may be "the true arbiters of the nominating process" ( Ceasar 1982, p. 60). 2 The purpose of this chapter is to assess the influence the news media have on voters in primaries. There is, of course, no doubt that the news media are central actors in this process. It is not clear, however, that this influence is as pervasive as some suggest. For instance, one can bemoan the fact that Hart was able to win the New Hampshire Primary in 1984 after having at best a modest showing in Iowa. And clearly the news media's coverage of him after Iowa contributed heavily to his rise in the polls ( Moore 1984a; Brady and. Johnston 1987). But the rise that Hart (or anyone else who might have done unexpectedly well) experienced was also attributable to Mon-