This edition of TL;DR looks at how media attention impacts politicians’ popularity. Here’s the key take away: negative media attention negatively impacts popularity ratings, while positive media attention has no significant impact on popularity ratings. That’s according to a new paper titled “The Influence of Mass Media on Popularity of Politicians” out in the journal Party Politics.
The researchers compared data from Belgian political popularity polls with data from three of Belgian’s main newspapers. The study investigated how the quantity and tone (positive or negative) of media attention impacted politicians’ popularity on two fronts. How it impacted the chances of making it onto the 30-person list that comprises the popularity polls. And how it impacted the popularity score of those who made it onto the list.
Here’s a breakdown of the findings. Visibility in media has a positive impact on the likelihood of a politician being in a popularity poll. Not much surprise there. Interestingly, the tone of the media coverage, whether it’s positive or negative doesn’t seem to impact a politicians inclusion in the popularity poll. For those who make it onto the list, media visibility has a positive impact on their popularity score. In regards to tone, negative tone has a significant negative effect on a politician’s popularity score. However, positive tone has no significant effect on a politician’s score.
That negative, and not positive, media coverage impacts a politicians’ popularity score is an example of what researchers call negativity bias. Negativity bias means that humans tend to give more importance to negative information when forming an opinion about someone. Further, we tend to give greater weight to the consequences of negative evaluations than positive evaluations.
The study confirms that media attention increases a politicians chances of being included in selective popularity polls. But the researches found that ordinary MPs (as opposed to ministers or party leaders) need to make it into the press more than 20 times per month, on average, for their chances of inclusion to rise significantly. Once a politician reaches this number, the likelihood of being included in a popularity poll rapidly increases.
The researchers noted that the popularity score of an ordinary MP is much more influenced by visibility than ministers or party leaders. Those in higher ranking positions “profit less from media attention.” This is probably because these politicians are already well-known and people have pre-established, stable opinions about them.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Belgian popularity polls are rather particular in that the 30 politicians shortlisted for the poll are selected somewhat arbitrarily. Journalists, political science researchers and other experts make the selection for the poll. Getting on a selected list won’t be relevant for all countries. Nonetheless, the researchers’ findings are worth keeping in mind.
What do you think of the results of this study? Do you have any ideas as to what the possible implications of these results can be? Leave your comments below!
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References: Remoortere, A., Vliegenthart, R. (2023). The Influence of mass media on the popularity of politicians. Party Politics, 1-14.