Political Behavior

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 157–186 | Cite as

Shot by the Messenger: Partisan Cues and Public Opinion Regarding National Security and War

Original Paper


Research has shown that messages of intra-party harmony tend to be ignored by the news media, while internal disputes, especially within the governing party, generally receive prominent coverage. We examine how messages of party conflict and cooperation affect public opinion regarding national security, as well as whether and how the reputations of media outlets matter. We develop a typology of partisan messages in the news, determining their likely effects based on the characteristics of the speaker, listener, news outlet, and message content. We hypothesize that criticism of a Republican president by his fellow partisan elites should be exceptionally damaging (especially on a conservative media outlet), while opposition party praise of the president should be the most helpful (especially on a liberal outlet). We test our hypotheses through an experiment and a national survey on attitudes regarding the Iraq War. The results show that credible communication (i.e., “costly” rhetoric harmful to a party) is more influential than “cheap talk” in moving public opinion. Ironically, news media outlets perceived as ideologically hostile can actually enhance the credibility of certain messages relative to “friendly” news sources.


Public opinion Foreign policy Media effects Media bias Iraq 



This research was supported by a faculty research grant from the UCLA Academic Senate. We wish to thank the following individuals for assistance with various aspects of this project: Monica Arruda de Almeida, Russell Burgos, Jude Calvillo, Kellan Connor, Jennifer De Maio, Anne Drazen, Mike Franks, Jamie Georgia, Phil Gussin, Mallory Gompert, Sharon Jarvis, Shuhei Kurizaki, Michael Lofche, Blake Marchewka, Thomas Plate, Keith Rozette, Alan D. Rozzi, Francis Steen, Arthur Stein, Jana von Stein, Michael Suman, Victor Wolfenstein, Michael Xenos and Amy Zegart. We also thank Lonna Rae Atkenson, David Darmofal, Kim Gross, the editors and several anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on previous drafts of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.John F. Kennedy School of Government and Department of GovernmentHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Communication StudiesUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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