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Media's Influence on the Public's Political Attitudes

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  • 0:02 Political Attitudes
  • 1:27 The Media's Role
  • 3:18 Newer Forms of Media
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Most people make their political decisions based on impressions gained from the media. This lesson assesses the effect of media, especially newer forms of media, on the public's political attitudes.

Political Attitudes

How would you describe your political attitude? Do you have a negative attitude toward most public officials? Do you typically follow issues and elections? Do you think the country is headed in the right direction? Do you usually vote?

A political attitude is simply the way you think or feel about our government and related social and economic issues. For example, many conservatives share a basic political attitude. In general, Republicans believe America's long-standing principles, traditions and institutions should be maintained because they've afforded more freedom and prosperity than any other society in history.

Liberals also share a common political attitude. In general, Democrats believe America is responsible for certain economic, social and political injustices and therefore has the responsibility to correct unfairness using government action.

Of course, many people believe a little of both, or something in-between. Often, our political attitudes fluctuate depending on the subject or issue. Perhaps you support affirmative action measures, but you're against universal government-funded healthcare.

The Media's Role

Where do you think your political attitudes come from? Is it based on your family, gender, or religion? These factors play an important role. Likely, however, the media plays an important role in shaping our political attitudes.

Think, for a moment, of a politician you mostly trust and like. Let's say the trusted figure is named 'Tommy'. If you hear that Tommy is in favor of a particular issue, are you more likely to favor that issue yourself? If so, why?

Keep in mind that many political decisions used to be made by political leaders in back rooms. A political decision is any choice dealing with government affairs, structure or politics. The political leaders chose our political candidates, the hot political issues, and drove the political process. By the 1970s, candidates and officials commonly presented issues, and themselves, directly to the voters through the increasing use of television in politics.

As a result, the voters began placing a higher value on the personality and character of candidates and officials. If a voter likes a particular official, like Tommy, then that voter trusts the decisions Tommy makes. This is true even if Tommy is of a different political party affiliation. Rather than researching healthcare reform, the voter trusts that Tommy will make the right decision. The voter's attitude on how to vote, volunteer and give money is shaped through the media's coverage of Tommy.

Newer Forms of Media

Now let's take a look beyond television. New media provides cheaper and easier ways to influence people's political attitudes. New media includes Internet- and digital-based forms of mass communication, including social media. Many forms of new media have already influenced people to vote, volunteer and give money. For example, the American Red Cross used Twitter to raise a record-breaking $8 million dollar plus in relief efforts after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The convenience of new media is the main reason it plays an important role in shaping today's political attitudes. New media is wide-ranging and offers:

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