Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government

By Stephen C. Craig | Go to book overview

mainstream press, talk shows are granted legitimacy primarily by the willingness of politicians to appear on them and to respond to opinions voiced on air. Once leaders stop taking talk shows seriously, their influence will abate quickly.

In many ways, the newly emerged media populism does not differ greatly in character from Frank Capra's depression-era populist vision. The people, then as now, still had faith in the superiority of the American system of government even though they had lost confidence in political leaders and were estranged from political institutions. They continued to believe that it was possible to buck the established media order and get their message out. But, then as now, without a formal mechanism for having opinion translate into action, voices sound hollow and messages fall on deaf ears.


NOTES

I would like to thank the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press for providing me with the data used in this chapter. I am also grateful to Steve Farnsworth for his valuable research assistance.

1.
Sampling error for the general-public survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points and is plus or minus 10 percentage points for the talk-show-host survey. Additional information about the two surveys is contained in Kohut ( 1993).
2.
Adult contemporary (soft rock, New Age and jazz) and country music are the two most popular radio formats. Talk radio is the third most popular format ( Cutler 1990).
3.
Callers and listeners combined constitute 67 percent in the West, 62 percent in the South, 59 percent in the Midwest, and just 51 percent in the East.
4.
Fifty percent of whites are callers, 11 percent are listeners; the figures for nonwhites are 41 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
5.
Individual scores on the variables described in this paragraph were determined by responses (ranging from completely agree = 1 to completely disagree = 4) to the following items: (1) Citizen duty. I feel it's my duty as a citizen to always vote; (2) Political efficacy. People like me don't have any say about what the government does. Most elected officials, care what people like me think; (3) Political alienation. Generally speaking, elected officials in Washington lose touch with the people pretty quickly; (4) National optimism. As Americans we can always find a way to solve our problems and get what we want. I don't believe that there are any real limits to growth in this country today; (5) Government alienation. When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful. The federal government controls too much of our daily lives; (6) Business alienation. There is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few big companies. Business corporations make too much profit; (7) Financial security. I don't often have enough money to make ends meet. I'm pretty well satisfied with the way things are going for me financially. Where appropriate, scores were recoded to accommodate differences in direction of wording.
6.
The last two items listed in Table 7.4 refer to respondents (1) calling an 800 number to register their opinion on some issue and (2) calling a television station or cable company to complain about a TV program they didn't like.
7.
Seventeen percent of callers and 18 percent of listeners granted Hillary Clinton a "very favorable" score, compared to 25 percent of nonlisteners.

-145-

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