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Communication Public Opinion
by
Patricia Moy

Introduction

The communication scholar’s approach to the study of public opinion emphasizes the role that mass media and interpersonal discussion play in shaping people’s attitudes, behaviors, and cognitions. Recognizing how the communication of public opinion can affect how citizens feel and what they do regarding an issue, scholars are concerned with the accuracy, quantity, and overall quality of media reports of that issue. They also investigate how interacting with individuals can shape people’s attitudes and behaviors. Studies of public opinion examine how individuals, groups, organizations, and other entities respond to expressions of opinion, and they delineate the processes by which individual opinions shape public policy. By definition, then, public opinion research is concerned with phenomena at the micro, meso, and macro levels, and, regardless of the level of analysis, can be applied to understanding social and political issues in democratic and nondemocratic systems.

Textbooks

Public opinion textbooks generally revolve around normative issues related to democracy and citizenship, include public opinion theories and processes, and identify the role that communication plays in shaping public opinion. Authors of textbooks can differ in their epistemological approach. Clawson and Oxley 2008, Glynn, et al. 2004, and Price 1992 are more social scientific in their discussions, using theory and data to explain public opinion processes. Similarly, Splichal 1999 examines normative concerns related to public opinion but adopts a critical perspective that emphasizes social critique and social change. It is rare to find a textbook that equally emphasizes social scientific and critical perspectives.

  • Clawson, Rosalee A., and Zoe M. Oxley. 2008. Public opinion: Democratic ideals, democratic practice. Washington, DC: CQ.

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    Geared toward undergraduates, this textbook tackles various aspects of public opinion as they relate to democratic norms. (chapter 3 relates to mass media). The authors evenly balance theory with data, and the brief list of suggested readings at the end of each chapter provides a useful resource for motivated students.

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  • Glynn, Carroll J., Susan Herbst, Garrett J. O’Keefe, Robert Y. Shapiro, and Mark Lindeman. 2004. Public opinion. 2d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    This undergraduate text draws explicitly from many disciplines—communication, political science, sociology, and psychology—to provide a broad theoretical perspective to the field. The authors supplement their theoretically oriented chapters with chapters on methodology, history, definitions, and larger political contexts. Up-to-date examples and excerpts from primary texts sprinkled throughout the text help readers to apply various concepts.

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  • Price, Vincent. 1992. Public opinion. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    This slim monograph is an invaluable resource for undergraduates and graduates who desire an introduction to the historical, theoretical, sociological, psychological, and normative aspects of public opinion. The monograph maps the contours of the field, and its success is reflected in its having been translated into Spanish, Korean, Greek, and Italian.

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  • Splichal, Slavko. 1999. Public opinion: Developments and controversies in the twentieth century. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    This textbook for advanced undergraduates and graduates takes a critical approach to the study of public opinion. The volume can be assigned in its entirety or as stand-alone chapters, as each chapter revolves around a different development or controversy. It nicely supplements the contributions in Glasser and Salmon 1995 (cited under Anthologies).

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Anthologies

Like textbooks, public opinion anthologies differ in how contributors view and try to explain public opinion. Social scientists attempt to use theory and systematically collected data to better understand and generalize about a given communication phenomenon. Critical theorists, on the other hand, view communication as a source of power, and their research often highlights power relationships. Both approaches to the study of public opinion shed light on how and why people hold the opinions they do and how and why communication messages can influence those attitudes. The contributors to Donsbach and Traugott 2008 and Geer 2004 take a more social scientific approach to discussing public opinion. Glasser and Salmon 1995 and Splichal 2001 veer more toward the critical. The entries in Peters and Simonson 2004 straddle both domains. The historical orientation of Peters and Simonson 2004 offers a welcome contrast to the more contemporary concerns of the other anthologies.

  • Donsbach, Wolfgang, and Michael W. Traugott, eds. 2008. The SAGE handbook of public opinion research. London: SAGE.

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    This volume includes chapters on public opinion theory and methodology. Heretofore unseen clusters of chapters revolve around the social and political environment of public opinion research (e.g., the effects of polls on citizens; journalists’ attitudes toward public opinion research) and special fields of application (e.g., the use of surveys as legal evidence; the use of voter research in campaigns).

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  • Geer, John G., ed. 2004. Public opinion and polling around the world: A historical encyclopedia. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

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    This edited set is the only work to provide an exhaustive comparative review of public opinion issues around the world, including democratic countries, nondemocratic states, and countries in transition. Contributions related to the United States examine public opinion across different eras and various political and social issues.

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  • Glasser, Theodore L., and Charles T. Salmon, eds. 1995. Public opinion and the communication of consent. New York: Guilford.

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    Contributions to this volume reflect social scientific and critical ways of thinking; they focus on the historical and the contemporary, and address individual-level concerns as well as group- and societal-level phenomena. Collectively they offer a richly nuanced perspective on the field.

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  • Peters, John Durham, and Peter Simonson, eds. 2004. Mass communication and American social thought: Key texts 1919–1968. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    If public opinion and culture are interchangeable (see Glynn, et al. 2004, cited under Textbooks), public opinion scholars and communication scholars in general will appreciate this volume’s historically oriented texts. The contributions speak to media content and media effects, and they have great implications for understanding public opinion.

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  • Splichal, Slavko, ed. 2001. Public opinion and democracy: Vox populi—vox dei? Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

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    This volume offers a primarily critical approach to the field and addresses how polls and the mass media have domesticated public opinion. Three chapters focus on public opinion in postmodern, Islamic, and socialist societies.

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Best Practices

These sources offer guidelines for various entities in the production and consumption of public opinion poll data. The two organizations from which these documents were extracted—the American Association for Public Opinion Research and the National Council on Public Polls—are committed to upholding standards of practice in the field.

Data Archives

Many communication scholars are unable to collect primary data to answer their research questions and test their hypotheses. Fortunately, there exists a vast array of data archives that allow those interested in public opinion to conduct secondary analyses. Some archives house cross-national, comparative data (Asian Barometer, Eurobarometer, Latinobarómetro, International Social Survey Program). Others serve as clearinghouses for survey data collected from numerous organizations around the world (Roper Center, Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research). The Pew Research Center collects its own data from around the world. Comprising interviews with US citizens, the American National Election Studies is one of the most extensively used academically based datasets.

Journals

Public opinion research appears in a number of refereed journals. Some journals deal with the field of communication in general (Communication Research, Journal of Communication), whereas others are slightly more specific, focusing on mass media (Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, International Journal of Press/Politics, Political Communication). Public Opinion Quarterly and International Journal of Public Opinion Research focus on theoretical and methodological aspects of public opinion.

Definitions and Functions

What role should public opinion play in society? What role can it play? These entries touch upon some of the key issues related to a meaningful public opinion. An optimistic, often-cited normative view sees public sentiment as shaping public policy, but as contributors in Manza, et al. 2002 show, the relationship is not clear-cut. Herbst 1995 and Lewis 2001 offer more detail: they illustrate how the mere act of polling the public empowers those already in power, and does little to truly allow citizens to express their self-interests. Furthermore, scholars question whether citizens are indeed capable of expressive substantive opinions. The key works of Converse 1964, Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996, and Page and Shapiro 1992 speak to this debate. Crespi 1997 and Price and Neijens 1997 offer models reflecting how public opinion and public policy can be shaped by communication and other forces.

  • Converse, Philip E. 1964. The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In Ideology and discontent. Edited by David E. Apter, 206–261. New York: Free Press.

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    This seminal piece revealed the existence of ideologically innocent citizens, unable to truly comprehend politics even though they claimed to be able to do so. Elites, on the other hand, were ideologically constrained and able to understand the issues. Public opinion researchers today remain concerned with nonattitudes.

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  • Crespi, Irving. 1997. The public opinion process: How the people speak. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    The author offers a multidimensional model of public opinion that involves citizens interacting with their environments and communicating with the groups to which they belong. The model also includes a legitimatization process that links collective opinion to government. The model is useful for communication scholars who wish to study the impact of discussion and mass media on public opinion and public policy.

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  • Delli Carpini, Michael X. and Scott Keeter. 1996. What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    This survey-based, award-winning book appraises the extent to which various groups know about politics, and the implications of these trends on American politics. The authors begin with an especially useful conceptualization of political knowledge, and end with a realistic discussion of how to counteract some of the trends that emerged in their book.

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  • Herbst, Susan. 1995. Numbered voices: How opinion polling has shaped American politics. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    With this book, the author reminds the reader that the prevalence of survey research ostensibly is to increase opportunities for public opinion expression. However, the rise of quantification may very well hinder debate and political participation. The book offers a concise summary of how opinion expression techniques have shifted over time.

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  • Lewis, Justin. 2001. Constructing public opinion: How political elites do what they like and why we seem to go along with it. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Taking a slightly different stance, the author adopts a cultural-studies approach to the study of public opinion polling. He argues that opinion polls manufacture responses rather than record them, and that media coverage of polls will only serve to maintain hegemonic structures. The book contrasts other titles that argue for the significant role that polls play in shaping policy.

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  • Manza, Jeff, Fay Lomax Cook, and Benjamin I. Page, eds. 2002. Navigating public opinion: Polls, policy, and the future of American democracy. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    The chapters in this volume revolve around the notion that public opinion should promote good government and democracy. The volume is well balanced between case studies in which opinion leads to policy and chapters in which the contributors argue that leaders use public opinion for other purposes.

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  • Page, Benjamin I., and Robert Y. Shapiro. 1992. The rational public: Fifty years of trends in Americans’ policy preferences. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    In this award-winning book, the authors deploy decades’ worth of data to revisit the question of citizen competence and the extent to which Americans know about and hold substantive opinions on issues. Particularly useful for aspiring public opinion analysts is the book’s presentation of longitudinal data about social and political issues.

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  • Price, Vincent, and Peter Neijens. 1997. Opinion quality in public opinion research. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 9.4: 336–360.

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    Macrosocial theorists and anyone who wants a more Gestalt perspective on public opinion will appreciate the authors’ model of collective decision-making process, which includes different phases and different participants. The authors present criteria by which to assess opinion quality at the individual and collective level.

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Theories

Theories of communication and public opinion often situate mass media and interpersonal discussion as shapers of public opinion. Agenda Setting identifies mass media effects on how people think; the Spiral of Silence hypothesizes that what people see in the media and in their own lives will influence what they do; and according to both Framing and the Third-Person Effect, the media will affect how people think, feel, and act. Deliberation is a theory that explicitly takes into account the influences of both mass and interpersonal communication.

Agenda Setting

The formulation of agenda setting in McCombs and Shaw 1972 presented the notion that increased coverage of an issue led to greater perceived importance of that issue. Citing Cohen 1963 and drawing upon the ideas of Lippmann 1922, McCombs and Shaw put forth a cognitive effect of mass media. Iyengar and Kinder 1987 broadened agenda setting effects from newspapers to television. The expansion of agenda setting’s theoretical boundaries can be seen in McCombs, et al. 1997 and is summarized in McCombs 2004. A special issue of Journal of Communication (Tewksbury and Scheufele 2007) juxtaposes agenda setting with similar concepts and reviews key intellectual debates related to the concept.

  • Cohen, Bernard C. 1963. The press and foreign policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Differentiating between attitudinal and cognitive effects of the news media, the author outlined his views of media power—views very similar to agenda setting—a decade before the term was coined.

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  • Iyengar, Shanto, and Donald R. Kinder. 1987. News that matters: Television and American opinion. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    The authors present a series of experiments to show how citizens’ perceptions of the most important problems are shaped by the amount of coverage an issue receives in the news. The book also introduces priming as a direct extension of agenda setting.

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  • Lippmann, Walter. 1922. Public opinion. New York: Harcourt.

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    This classic, which concerns more than agenda setting and precedes McCombs and Shaw by a half century, speaks at length to how the media are able to “shape the pictures in our heads.”

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  • McCombs, Maxwell. 2004. Setting the agenda: The mass media and public opinion. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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    The culmination of over three decades of research on agenda setting, this title traces the theoretical development and reviews key research studies in the area. In many ways, the book represents the school of agenda setting. Individuals who wish to build their own bibliography will find this book’s endnotes extremely helpful.

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  • McCombs, Maxwell E., and Donald L. Shaw. 1972. The agenda setting function of the press. Public Opinion Quarterly 36:176–187.

    DOI: 10.1086/267990Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The seminal article on agenda setting, based on a content analysis and a survey of one hundred individuals, has spawned hundreds of studies and much intellectual debate in this area. Problems that methodologically inclined students can identify in the article have motivated researchers to modify both the theory and measurement of agenda setting.

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  • McCombs, Maxwell, Donald L. Shaw, and David Weaver. 1997. Communication and democracy: Exploring the intellectual frontiers in agenda setting theory. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    This volume includes international scholars’ expeditions into the field of agenda setting. Theoretical and empirical chapters coexist to explain macro- and micro-level phenomena. Ghanem (chapter 1) articulates the concept of second-level agenda setting, a notion with which other scholars have taken issue. See also Tewksbury and Scheufele 2007.

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  • Tewksbury, David, and Dietram A. Scheufele, eds. 2007. Special issue: Framing, agenda setting and priming: Agendas for theory and research. Journal of Communication 57.1.

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    This special issue includes theoretically grounded empirical studies from around the world that help delineate the sometimes blurry boundaries between agenda setting, priming, and framing (see McCombs, et al. 1997). Particularly noteworthy are the assessments of the field by prominent researchers in the area.

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Deliberation

According to some theorists, democracy without regular and meaningful deliberation leads to poor public policy. Scholars of deliberation therefore have been interested in identifying new forums for civic discussion (see Fishkin 2009) or the role that mass media play in helping individuals communicate in existing public spheres (see Page 1996). Indeed, deliberation appears in numerous guises, as Gastil 2008 shows, and a reading of the literature would be incomplete without Habermas 1991. While many scholars try to better understand how communicating with individuals can influence our attitudes and behaviors (see Huckfeldt and Sprague 1995), Schudson 1997 warns that only certain types of communication help democracy. The research presented in Mutz 2006 revisits the question of how talking and disagreeing with others can impact democracy.

  • Fishkin, James S. 2009. When the people speak: Deliberative democracy and public consultation. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    The author continues his line of argument that implementing deliberative polls is both theoretically and socially significant. He presents data from the United States, eastern and western Europe, Asia, and Australia to contend that there are real consequences to deliberation. The book includes a DVD of the project in Europe.

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  • Gastil, John. 2008. Political communication and deliberation. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This easy-to-read text brings together diverse contexts in which individuals (as voters and as participants in juries, chat rooms, and town-hall meetings) deliberate and the effects of such behavior. The author also examines institution-level deliberation.

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  • Habermas, Jürgen. 1991. The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. Translated by Thomas Burger. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    English translation of Strukturwandel der Öffentlicheit (Neuwied, West Germany: Luchterhand, 1962). This is the work most often associated with the author and the term “public sphere.” The term, however, is not a unitary phenomenon; the author differentiates public from private (see Splichal 1999, cited under Textbooks) and identifies various types of public spheres. This multilayered, deeply nuanced text cannot be fully absorbed in just one reading.

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  • Huckfeldt, Robert, and John Sprague. 1995. Citizens, politics, and social communication: Information and influence in an election campaign. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511664113Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book, based on the much-analyzed South Bend, Indiana, study of 1984, pioneered the move toward studying the effects of context (i.e., neighborhood and other groups) on political attitudes and preferences.

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  • Mutz, Diana C. 2006. Hearing the other side: Deliberative versus participatory democracy. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Analyzing data from surveys and experiments, this book ultimately weighs the advantages and disadvantages of political disagreement. Exposure to dissonant views increases political tolerance but decreases political participation. The US-based findings have great implications for citizenship in any democratic system.

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  • Page, Benjamin I. 1996. Who deliberates? Mass media in modern democracy. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Having moved long ago from the small Greek demos, societies must now rely on mass media to help citizens deliberate. This book employs a number of case studies to demonstrate how deliberation in the mass media really does not reflect the masses.

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  • Schudson, Michael. 1997. Why conversation is not the soul of democracy. Critical Studies in Mass Communication 14:297–309.

    DOI: 10.1080/15295039709367020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author offers a much-needed distinction between various forms of interpersonal discussion that get confounded and that are credited with helping facilitate democratic norms. He emphasizes the importance of engaging in problem-solving or democratic conversation to solve problems.

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Framing

Drawing from multiple disciplines, framing in communication refers to a number of distinct yet related phenomena, as outlined by Scheufele 1999. Entman 1991 refers primarily to practices by media organizations that manifest themselves in specific content, and Iyengar 1991 focuses on the individual-level effects of media content. Theoretical and empirical linkages between media frames and audience frames are articulated by Price and Tewksbury 1997 and Neuman, et al. 1992. Ferree, et al. 2002 and Reese, et al. 2001 view media as merely one factor among a host of influences shaping how individuals come to understand the world around them.

  • Entman, Robert. 1991. Framing United States coverage of international news: Contrasts in narratives of the KAL and Iran Air incidents. Journal of Communication 41.4: 6–27.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1991.tb02328.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Many credit this case study as having brought framing into the communication spotlight. The work exemplifies the adroit interweaving of empirical, interpretive, and critical strands of research to show how media coverage of two ostensibly similar events differed greatly.

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  • Ferree, Myra Marx, William Anthony Gamson, Jürgen Gerhards, and Dieter Rucht. 2002. Shaping abortion discourse: Democracy and the public sphere in Germany and the United States. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511613685Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Relying on content analyses, surveys with collective actors, and in-depth interviews with journalists, this cross-national study demonstrates how the media have limited power to shape public discourse. The authors situate the media amidst a field of cultural, religious, and political influences, and their power differs depending on the overall context.

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  • Iyengar, Shanto. 1991. Is anyone responsible? How television frames political issues. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A classic experiment in the field of public opinion, this accessibly written book identifies how different news frames can influence political attitudes and attributions of responsibility. The research draws on a robust set of issues on which to test framing effects.

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  • Neuman, W. Russell, Marion R. Just, and Ann N. Crigler. 1992. Common knowledge: News and the construction of political meaning. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Combining quantitative and qualitative approaches, the authors show how citizens interact with news framing of issues to understand the world outside their immediate life space. Their simple yet elegant studies confirm how citizens’ reinterpretation of mediated messages makes a difference in what they know and understand.

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  • Price, Vincent, and David Tewksbury. 1997. News values and public opinion: A theoretical account of media priming and framing. In Progress in communication sciences: Advances in persuasion. Vol. 13. Edited by George A. Barnett and Franklin J. Boster, 173–212. Greenwich, CT: Ablex.

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    This richly detailed chapter articulates the psychological processes involved in media priming and framing effects. A tightly written section on news values sets the stage for how audience members are influenced by media content. The authors differentiate between accessibility effects and applicability effects, illustrating how they work both in short- and long-term capacities.

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  • Reese, Stephen D., Oscar H. Gandy Jr., and August E. Grant, eds. Framing public life: Perspectives on media and our understanding of the social world. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2001.

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    The chapters with the most staying power are those in Part 1, dealing with theory and measurement, but readers interested in a particular context of study will find the case studies in this volume interesting. Tankard’s chapter on how to study media frames is particularly useful for scholars interested in analyzing print-media content.

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  • Scheufele, Dietram A. 1999. Framing as a theory of media effects. Journal of Communication 49.1: 103–122.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1999.tb02784.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Synthesizing the somewhat disparate research on framing, this heavily cited article puts forth a process model that links macro- with micro-level concerns, and media content producers with consumers. It also identifies and categorizes types of research questions that would be useful to pose in undertaking framing research.

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Spiral of Silence

As articulated by Noelle-Neumann 1993 and reviewed by Scheufele and Moy 2000, the spiral of silence posits that individuals fear isolation from society and, in an effort to avoid such sanctions, they attempt to gauge the climate of opinion around them. If they perceive their views to be in the majority, they will be more willing to express their own opinion. Individuals who believe the majority view to differ from their own will be less likely to speak out. Glynn and McLeod 1985 and Salmon and Kline 1985 offer early theoretical and methodological critiques of the theory, and Glynn, et al. 1997 provides a meta-analysis of the key, most commonly studied relationship in the spiral of silence. Shamir and Shamir 2000 offers a broader perspective on how the information climate can influence public opinion perceptions and behaviors.

  • Glynn, Carroll J., Andrew F. Hayes, and James Shanahan. 1997. Perceived support for one’s opinions and willingness to speak out: A meta-analysis of survey studies on the “spiral of silence”. Public Opinion Quarterly 61.3: 452–463.

    DOI: 10.1086/297808Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This meta-analysis brings together seventeen empirical studies of the spiral of silence spanning Asia, the Middle East, North America, and Europe. The study only examines the strength of the relationship between people’s perceptions of public opinion and their willingness to express their own opinions.

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  • Glynn, Carroll J., and Jack M. McLeod. 1985. Implications of the spiral of silence theory for communication and public opinion research. In Political communication yearbook 1984. Edited by Keith R. Sanders, Lynda Lee Kaid, and Dan Nimmo, 43–65. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press.

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    This examination of the spiral of silence evaluates the assumptions and evidence for the theory in Noelle-Neumann 1993. The authors offer a number of different measurements of public opinion expression on controversial issues that would help researchers around the world better test the theory.

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  • Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. 1993. The spiral of silence: Public opinion—our social skin. 2d ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    This book represents the first comprehensive English-language discussion of the theory, parts of which had appeared only in disparate articles. It includes strands of thinking from various political philosophers and scholars that have disappeared from subsequent replications of the theory. The data presented are based on surveys conducted in Germany. Originally published as Die Schweigespirale: Öffentliche Meinung—unsere soziale Haut (Munich: Piper, 1980).

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  • Salmon, Charles T., and F. Gerald Kline. 1985. The Spiral of Silence ten years later: An examination and evaluation. In Political communication yearbook 1984. Edited by Keith R. Sanders, Lynda Lee Kaid, and Dan Nimmo, 3–30. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press.

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    The authors provide an in-depth critique of the spiral of silence, focusing on the strength of the experimental data on which the theory is based. This chapter presents alternative explanations to Noelle-Neumann’s interpretation of conformist behavior and advocates for research to bring the theory to other countries.

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  • Scheufele, Dietram A., and Patricia Moy. 2000. Twenty-five years of The Spiral of Silence: A conceptual review and empirical outlook. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 12:3–28.

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    Drawing upon research conducted in North America, Europe, and Asia, the authors bring together divergent conceptualizations and measurements of the spiral of silence. They argue for a return to a macro-focus in related research and call for the integration of specific cultural variables into future studies.

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  • Shamir, Jacob, and Michal Shamir. 2000. The anatomy of public opinion. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    Drawing upon surveys of the general Israeli population and media professional and experts, as well as think-aloud protocol studies, the authors present a system-level approach to studying the effects of the information climate. The book balances theory with data, and several of the chapters can be assigned as stand-alone reading for a graduate or advanced undergraduate course.

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Third-Person Effect

According to Davison 1983, people perceive the mass media to have their greatest impact not “on ‘me’ or ‘you,’ but on ‘them’—the third persons” (p. 3). This phenomenon appears to be relatively robust, as evidenced by Dupagne, et al. 1999 and Price and Tewksbury 1996. Nuances do exist, however, as shown in Duck and Mullin 1995. Willnat, et al. 2002 and Tsfati and Cohen 2003 demonstrate the existence of the third-person effect in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Perloff 1999 integrates the literature in the field. Gunther and Storey 2003 moves scholars to thinking more broadly about the phenomenon, contending that it is an example of presumed media influence.

  • Davison, W. Phillips. 1983. The third-person effect in communication. Public Opinion Quarterly 47.1: 1–15.

    DOI: 10.1086/268763Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Written half in story-telling fashion and half social scientifically, this seminal article presents several illustrations of the third-person effect, including the often-cited example involving the troops on Iwo Jima. The author relates the third-person effect to other social-psychological public opinion phenomena.

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  • Duck, Julie M., and Barbara-Ann Mullin. 1995. The perceived impact of the mass media: Reconsidering the third person effect. European Journal of Social Psychology 25.1: 77–93.

    DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2420250107Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    These two experiments conducted in Australia reflect a revisionist view of the third-person effect, showing that the phenomenon does not always occur. Rather, the effect differs depending on the type of content and the type of social comparison individuals are asked to make.

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  • Dupagne, Michel, Michael B. Salwen, and Bryant Paul. 1999. Impact of question order on the third-person effect. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 11.4: 334–345.

    DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/11.4.334Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Following up on Price and Tewksbury 1996, this study uses a national telephone survey of Americans to examine methodological influences on people’s perceptions of relative media impact. The authors find an influence on only one aspect of the third-person effect.

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  • Gunther, Albert C., and J. Douglas Storey. 2003. The influence of presumed influence. Journal of Communication 53.2: 199–215.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2003.tb02586.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article marks the beginning of scholars thinking about the third-person effect in a broader context. This initial study of the influence of presumed influence is based on data collected in Nepal, and presents an indirect-effects model of communication effects.

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  • Perloff, Richard M. 1999. The third-person effect: A critical review and synthesis. Media Psychology 1.4: 353–378.

    DOI: 10.1207/s1532785xmep0104_4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this theoretical-integration essay, the author identifies and categorizes numerous antecedents to and consequences of the third-person effect. His call for additional research in this area focuses not only on individual-level and social-psychological variables, but also media-related changes, prescient of actual shifts in the media landscape in the past decade.

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  • Price, Vincent, and David Tewksbury. 1996. Measuring the third-person effect of news: The impact of question, order, contrast, and knowledge. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 8.2: 120–141.

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    The authors present an experiment-based methodological study showing the robustness of the third-person effect. The study is one of the very few empirical pieces that attempt to identify whether perceptions of greater media impact on others are due to the research design employed.

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  • Tsfati, Yariv, and Jonathan Cohen. 2003. On the effect of the “third-person effect”: Perceived influence of media coverage and residential mobility intentions. Journal of Communication 53.4: 711–727.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2003.tb02919.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This Israel-based study shows general support for the third-person effect. However, the authors discover a theoretical and empirical twist—that the accuracy of perceptions of others’ opinions makes a difference in the likelihood of taking action.

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  • Willnat, Lars, Zhou He, Toshio Takeshita, and Esteban López-Escobar. 2002. Perceptions of foreign media influence in Asia and Europe: The third-person effect and media imperialism. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 14:175–192.

    DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/14.2.175Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study is an extensive investigation of various forms of US media on residents of four Asian and four European countries. The article reveals differences in third-person effects—namely, perceptions of impact on cultural values differ from perceptions of impact of media violence.

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Methods

Research designed to assess communication and public opinion can involve methodologically complex tools: researchers and practitioners often rely on multiple methods—surveys, experiments, and/or content analyses—to understand the nuanced role that communication has in influencing public opinion. Entries represent reference works as well as exemplars of the specific method.

Survey Research

Survey research is the most commonly employed methodology to study public opinion in the academic, commercial, and government sectors. Fowler 2002 offers an introductory overview of the methodology. More detailed chapters can be found in Leeuw, et al. 2008 and Groves, et al. 2004. (Weisberg 2005 is similarly technical.) Dillman, et al. 2009 provides information on how to design surveys. Bradburn, et al. 2004 focuses specifically on how to ask questions, and implications of how the question is asked are addressed by Schuman and Presser 1996. Unfamiliar terms encountered in these works most likely will appear as entries in Lavrakas 2008.

  • Bradburn, Norman M., Seymour Sudman, and Brian Wansink. 2004. Asking questions: The definitive guide to questionnaire design—for market research, political polls, and social and health questionnaires. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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    This book is extremely accessible and can be used by individuals from at any level and in any field. The authors draw upon examples from many areas to illustrate various principles for asking questions. Their emphasis on how to ask specific questions is complemented by a short section on how to craft the entire questionnaire.

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  • Leeuw, Edith D. de, Joop J. Hox, and Don A. Dillman, eds. 2008. International handbook of survey methodology. New York: Erlbaum.

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    This volume brings together state-of-the-art reviews on how to conduct surveys. Contributors from around the world address survey research basics as well as recent technologies (e.g., interactive voice response), comparative research, and data quality. The lead author has provided a supplemental website to the text.

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  • Dillman, Don A., Jolene D. Smyth, and Leah Melani Christian. 2009. Internet, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method. 3d ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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    Taking into account shifts in how surveys are conducted (a welcome historical overview is presented in chapter 1), this latest edition emphasizes the construction of questions and questionnaires, and the importance of visual presentation. Particularly relevant for contemporary times are the latter chapters dealing with Internet surveys and the deployment of multiple-mode surveys.

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  • Fowler, Floyd J., Jr. 2002. Survey research methods. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Written in a highly accessible fashion, the author’s applied approach to the field takes the reader from the beginning to the end of a survey research project. Readers who wish for more detail from this relatively short book will not be disappointed by the significant bibliography.

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  • Groves, Robert M., Floyd J. Fowler Jr., Mick P. Couper, James M. Lepkowski, Eleanor Singer, and Roger Tourangeau. 2004. Survey methodology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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    Instructors can use this textbook in its entirety or assign specific chapters to undergraduate or graduate students, depending on the chapter’s level of technical detail. The text nicely combines the science of survey methodology with best practices in the field. Chapter 11 includes an extensive discussion of scientific integrity.

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  • Lavrakas, Paul J. 2008. Encyclopedia of survey research methods. 2 vols. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    The compilation of over six hundred entries is a worthwhile resource for both students of survey research and more advanced practitioners. Particularly useful is the inclusion of a guide that organizes all the entries by topics and themes. Additional readings, a list of relevant organizations, and samples of questionnaires also are offered.

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  • Schuman, Howard, and Stanley Presser. 1996. Questions and answers in attitude surveys: Experiments on question form, wording, and context. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Using numerous examples, the authors demonstrate how the construction of a survey question can influence how respondents answer the question. The book is especially valuable for communication scholars interested in framing effects.

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  • Weisberg, Herbert F. 2005. The total survey error approach: A guide to the new science of survey research. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    In detailed chapters accessible to beginning and advanced students, the author parses survey error into its constituent parts and provides potential solutions to each type of error. By emphasizing where error can appear, the book provides a welcome counterbalance to many other texts.

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Experimental Design

The prototypical experiment in communication involves manipulating subjects’ exposure to a particular type of message and observing the effects of that exposure. Though conducted less frequently than surveys in the public opinion domain, many experiments today involve web-based manipulations or split-ballot designs in which participants receive a randomly assigned question order or question wording (see TESS: Time-Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences). Most social science research methods texts cover experimental design, drawing upon Campbell and Stanley 1963. Cappella and Jamieson 1997 employs multiple experiments to illustrate how news media coverage can influence public opinion. De Rooij, et al. 2009 discusses noncontrolled experiments, focusing on field experiments.

  • Campbell, Donald T., and Julian C. Stanley. 1963. Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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    This succinctly written monograph is the classic title in experimental design. The authors’ articulation of three pre-experimental and three experimental designs is more than sufficient for most experiments that link communication and public opinion.

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  • Cappella, Joseph N., and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. 1997. Spiral of cynicism: The press and the public good. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Using a series of experiments, the authors determine how news framing will influence what audience members know and remember, and how they evaluate elected officials and their policies. The studies nicely foreground a theoretical backdrop that lays out the various mechanisms of influence by which news coverage can affect political evaluations.

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  • de Rooij, Eline A., Donald P. Green, and Alan S. Gerber. 2009. Field experiments on political behavior and collective action. Annual Review of Political Science 12:390–395.

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    Juxtaposing field experiments and laboratory experiments, the authors review research questions related to public opinion expression at the macro level. Their discussion is not methodological in nature; rather, it addresses how field experiments can help researchers from a number of disciplines, including communication, address certain questions in the field.

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  • TESS: Time-Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences

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    TESS is a National Science Foundation-funded endeavor designed to promote “innovative experimentation in the social sciences,” with proposals reviewed and funded on a competitive basis. Its website includes archived studies published from Internet-based experiments.

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    Content Analysis

    The systematic study of communication messages, content analysis allows public opinion scholars to infer public opinion about an issue. These studies can cover media content over the course of days, weeks, months or, in the case of Gonzenbach 1996, years. When linked with other methodologies, such as survey research and experimental design (see Druckman and Parkin 2005 and Schuck and de Vreese 2006, respectively), content analysis can provide strong evidence of communication effects on public opinion. The most commonly used content analysis texts are Krippendorf 2004, Neuendorf 2002, and Riffe, et al. 2005. Peter and Lauf 2002 addresses the issue of reliability in cross-national content analyses.

    • Druckman, James N., and Michael Parkin. 2005. The impact of media bias: How editorial slant affects voters. Journal of Politics 67.4: 1030–1049.

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      This study includes a newspaper content analysis of the 2000 Minnesota Senate campaign to assess relative slant. To show evidence of effects of such coverage, the authors link the results of the content analysis to an exit poll conducted on election night.

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    • Gonzenbach, William J. 1996. The media, the president, and public opinion: A longitudinal analysis of the drug issue, 1984–1991. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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      This book is a welcome title among studies of media content that examine issues over only a short period of time. It takes a broader approach to agenda setting than the formulation in McCombs and Shaw’s 1972, cited under Agenda Setting, looking at the impact of news coverage on policymakers’ agendas as well as public agendas. Poll data play a relatively minor role in this study.

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    • Krippendorf, Klaus. 2004. Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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      Substantially elaborating upon the first edition, which had been translated into Italian, Japanese, Hungarian, and Spanish, this revised title is geared toward scholars both in and outside the field of communication.

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    • Neuendorf, Kimberly A. 2002. The content analysis guidebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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      This user-friendly guidebook covers the standard areas related to content analysis. A section of content-analysis contexts provides readers with examples from different fields of study. The book also provides a list of message archives and discusses computerized content analysis at some length.

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    • Peter, Jochen, and Edmund Lauf. 2002. Reliability in cross-national content studies. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 79:815–832.

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      This study merits highlighting given the recent increase in the number of comparative studies. Using data collected from coders from different countries, the authors underscore how political knowledge and language skills have a greater impact on reliability than coding experience.

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    • Riffe, Daniel, Stephen Lacy, and Frederick G. Fico. 2005. Analyzing media messages: Using quantitative content analysis in research. 2d ed. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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      A resource for introductory and advanced students alike, this primer addresses the fundamental content-analysis questions concerning sample size and technique, measurement, reliability and validity, and data analysis. Examples draw from both contemporary and classic studies.

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    • Schuck, Andreas R. T., and Claes H. de Vreese. 2006. Between risk and opportunity: News framing and its effects on public support for EU enlargement. European Journal of Communication 21: 5–32.

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      The authors content-analyze German national and regional newspapers to study the presence of specific frames. Combining results of the content analysis with an experiment in which these frames are manipulated, the authors highlight the potential to study and converge upon media effects through different methodologies.

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    LAST MODIFIED: 02/23/2011

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199756841-0083

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