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Media Consumption and the Dynamics of Policy Mood

Abstract

Research has detailed the potential link between exposure to the mass media and the process of developing attitudes. Less examined, however, are the consequences of differing levels of media consumption on the nature of attitudes at both the individual and aggregate levels. This paper assesses the relationship between media consumption and public opinion in the U.S. (expressed through the macro concept of Policy Mood and an analogous micro concept we call policy liberalism). At the individual level, we find that increased levels of newspaper readership reduce variance in opinion, but that increased levels of television viewership do not. At the aggregate level, our results show that the opinions of media-consuming subgroups move in parallel for the most part, with similar causal dynamics. A slight exception to this parallelism lies with those who barely, if ever, read newspapers.

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Notes

  1. For earlier work that expresses similar sentiments about the relationship between information flow and opinion change, see also McGuire (1969), Page et al. (1987), Petty and Cacioppo (1981).

  2. Zaller (1992, p. 65) discusses how the better informed might be expected to have greater response stability over time. Political awareness, he also claims, is linked with “less chance variability” in how individuals respond to questions.

  3. Of course, the ultimate origin of information that is encountered through social communication may, in fact, be the media. But in this mechanism it is not the proximate cause of opinion change.

  4. Much of this emerging consensus on parallel over-time movement is captured in the Enns and Wlezien (2011) volume Who Gets Represented?

  5. For the complete list of these items included in our Policy Mood measure, see the “Appendix”.

  6. In our individual-level model, we use the following questions (as referenced in the “Appendix” to this paper): NATSPAC, NATHEAL, NATCITY, NATEDUC, NATRACE, NATARMS, NATFARE, NATROAD, NATSOC, NATMASS, and NATENVIR.

  7. We also then include year-based dummy variables in the mean function to guard against any single year's state of policy liberalism undermining our efforts to make broader conclusions about media consumption's effects on opinion over time.

  8. It should be noted that the continuous nature of the dependent variable used in our heteroskedastic regressions allows our models to avoid the problems of bias and incorrect inference found in heteroskedastic probit and heteroskedastic ordered probits by Keele and Park (2006).

  9. These dummy variables are omitted from the table of results in Table 1 for ease of presentation. Results are not affected by whether the year dummy variables are included or excluded from the model, nor are results affected by whether or not the year dummy variables are placed in the mean function, the variance function, or in both.

  10. The GSS question asking respondents how much television they watch per day asks for a raw number of hours watched but does not delve into content. The newspaper readership measure is by no means more specific about what people are reading, but we can envision how it is almost certainly easier to escape policy-specific information watching television than it is reading a newspaper.

  11. Education, in this sense, is a proxy for political information. In the GSS, for the years we examine, it is the only such proxy available.

  12. We present these media consumption variables in the variance function solely because we lack the theoretical motivation to place them in the mean function or in both. Models are robust to the placement of education in all parts of the model as well.

  13. Early models also included the main GSS measure of income, but said measure was removed due to its inability to capture changes in income over time; including or removing the measure does not change the results of the model.

  14. These same measures are used in the micro level model, but here we aggregate them into subgroups.

  15. The dividing points for television and newspaper consumption are somewhat arbitrary, but were chosen after looking at the distributions of scores from year to year. Splitting the data into these groups divides the public into three equal subsets that are mostly stable from one year to the next.

  16. The television question was not asked in each GSS year and therefore only covers the years 1974–2004.

  17. Stimson's algorithm and documentation are publicly available at his web site, http://www.unc.edu/stimson.

  18. One might ask how the Mood-like measures that we create from the GSS compare to one another, and to the original Mood measure itself. We have correlated the annual measure of Mood from Stimson's web site with the three Mood-like measures broken down by TV consumption. The three correlate rather strongly and virtually identically with Mood (low TV with Mood = 0.81; medium TV with Mood = 0.80; high TV with Mood = 0.81). Moreover, the variances of the three resulting series, derived from the output of Stimson's algorithm, show neither great differences in the amount of variance explained by index (all of which are within the second decimal of what the over-all Mood index explains in Stimson's results) or in the resulting standard deviation of those series (low = 6.95, medium = 5.48, high = 5.99).

  19. One might be tempted, from looking at Fig. 1, to conclude that those who read the paper the least—those with the heavy dotted line—are the most conservative, because their time series is consistently below the other two. That inference would be a mistaken one, because Stimson's algorithm produces an index with a somewhat artificial metric. It would be wrong, then, to compare the levels between the three series, though of course one can, as we will, compare their respective trajectories through time.

  20. To examine how well our subgroup measures of Mood relate to Stimson's original measure, we have correlated the annual measure of Mood from Stimson's web site with the three Mood-like measures broken down by TV consumption. The three correlate rather strongly with Mood and with virtually identical magnitudes (Low TV with Mood = 0.81; Medium TV with Mood = 0.80; High TV with Mood = 0.81).

  21. Similar analyses were performed for consumption of television, the results of which are incredibly similar to those found in Table 3.

  22. Before running this SUR model, we performed a similar analysis on the full sample of GSS respondents for the years 1972–2004, not subdivided by media consumption. We then compared these results to a replication of Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson's (2002) findings. The coefficients in both these preliminary models are nearly identical, making us confident that any results to follow in our models disaggregated by TV consumption do not depend on the shorter time period under consideration.

  23. As might be expected, due to the small disturbance terms, estimating the equations individually produces very similar results.

  24. A cross-equation test for parameter equality showed that we could not reject the null that the parameters are equal.

  25. A cross-equation test for parameter equality nevertheless failed to reject the null that the parameters are equal.

  26. Losing degrees of freedom when compared to efforts by Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson (2002) undoubtedly affects significance here. Whereas they examined this question over 48 years, we are only able to do so over 30.

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Correspondence to Tyler Johnson.

Appendix

Appendix

AFFRMACT N = 15. Some say that because of past discrimination, blacks should be given preference in hiring and promotion. Others say that such preference in hiring and promotion of blacks is wrong because it discriminates against whites. What about your opinion—are you for or against preferential hiring and promotion of blacks? If favors: do you favor preference in hiring and promotion strongly or not strongly? If opposes: do you oppose preference in hiring and promotion strongly or not strongly?

BUSING N = 17. In general, do you favor or oppose the busing of (Negro/Black/African American) and white school children from one school district to another?

CAPPUN N = 22. Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?

COURTS N = 24. In general, do you think the courts in this area deal too harshly or not harshly enough with criminals?

EQWLTH N = 16. Some people think the government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor, perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor. Others think that the government should not concern itself with reducing this income difference between the rich and poor. Here is a card with a scale from 1 to 7. Think of a score of 1 as meaning that the government ought to reduce the income differences between rich and poor, and a score of 7 meaning the government should not concern itself with reducing income differences. What score between 1 and 7 comes closest to the way you feel?

GUNLAW N = 21. Would you favor or oppose a law which would require a person to obtain a police permit before he or she could buy a gun?

HELPBLK N = 15. Some people think that (Blacks/Negroes/African Americans) have been discriminated against for so long that the government has a special obligation to help improve their living standards. Others believe that the government should not be giving special treatment to (Blacks/Negroes/African Americans). Where would you place yourself on this scale, or have not you made up your mind on this?

HELPNOT N = 15. Some people think that the government in Washington is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and private businesses. Others disagree and think that the government should do even more to solve our country’s problems. Still others have opinions somewhere in between. Where would you place yourself on this scale, or have not you made up your mind about this?

HELPPOOR N = 15. I would like to talk with you about issues some people tell us are important. Some people think that the government in Washington should to everything possible to improve the standard of living of all poor Americans; they are at point 1 on this card. Other people think it is not the government’s responsibility, and that each person should take care of himself; they are at point 5. Where would you place yourself on this scale, or haven’t you made up your mind on this?

HELPSICK N = 15. In general, some people think that it is the responsibility of the government in Washington to see to it that people have help in paying for doctors and hospital bills. Others think that these matters are not the responsibility of the federal government and that people should take care of these things themselves. Where would you place yourself on this scale, or haven’t you made up your mind on this?

NATARMS N = 23. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on the military, armaments, and defense?

NATARMSY N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we’re spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on national defense?

NATCITY N = 23. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on solving the problems of big cities?

NATCITYY N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on assistance to big cities?

NATEDUC N = 23. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on improving the nation’s education system?

NATEDUCY N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on education?

NATENVIR N = 23. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we’re spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on improving and protecting the environment?

NATENVIY N = 14 .We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on the environment?

NATFARE N = 23. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we’re spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on welfare?

NATFAREY N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on assistance to the poor?

NATHEAL N = 23. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on improving and protecting the nation’s health?

NATHEALY N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on health?

NATMASS N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on mass transportation?

NATRACE N = 23. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on improving the conditions of blacks?

NATRACEY N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on assistance to blacks?

NATROAD N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on highways and bridges?

NATSOC N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on social security?

NATSPAC N = 23. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on the space exploration program?

NATSPACY N = 14. We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I am going to name some of these problems, and for each one I would like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on space exploration?

RACOPEN N = 16. Suppose there is a community-wide vote on the general housing issue. There are two possible laws to vote on. One law says that a homeowner can decide for himself whom to sell his house to, even if he prefers not to sell to Negroes/Blacks/African Americans. The second law says that a homeowner cannot refuse to sell to someone because of their race and color. Which law would you vote for?

TAX N = 17. Do you consider the amount of federal income tax which you have to pay as too high, about right, or too low?

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Johnson, T., Kellstedt, P.M. Media Consumption and the Dynamics of Policy Mood. Polit Behav 36, 377–399 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-013-9233-5

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Keywords

  • Media consumption
  • Public opinion
  • Policy Mood
  • Micro and macro opinion