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As the Democratic Party continues to winnow its field of candidates to challenge President Donald Trump, it's important to remember that the way candidates are covered on TV can influence public opinion. That's become increasingly apparent in today's media landscape, with several candidates jockeying for coverage during their party's televised debates.
Scholars of political psychology like me – as well as researchers in other fields – have come to understand that what people see matters more than what they hear when making decisions about the leaders they will follow. A person who sees one candidate more than another will tend to prefer the one they see most – and perhaps be more likely to vote for that person, too.
Research - Group - Study - Election - Candidates
My research group's study of the 2016 presidential election found that front-running candidates received more camera time and were the focus of more flattering camera shots at the expense of other candidates.
Something similar appears to be happening in the 2020 Democratic primary race. Our analysis of the initial 2016 Republican and Democratic presidential primary debates found TV broadcasts showed front-runners for more time, and in more flattering views, than their competitors. Using the same method, my collaborators Austin Eubanks, Nicholas Hersom, Cooper Hearn and I analyzed the first and second Democratic Party primary debates, aired June 26 and 27 on NBC, Univision and MSNBC. Frame by frame, we scrutinized the footage on the basis of type of camera shot (head-and-shoulders, multiple candidates, side-by-side and split-screen), who was in the shot and how long.
Images - Signals - Viewers - Candidates
Visual images sent subtle signals to viewers about the 2016 presidential candidates.
In debates, candidates must impress—or at least not disappoint—viewers with their verbal prowess and their nonverbal communication skills. Their performance is limited by the cameras covering them. The production choices of how long to show each candidate and from what...
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