How Voters Construct Images of Political Candidates: The Role of Political Advertising and Televised News

By Montague Kern

A paper by Montague Kern, spring 1992 fellow, and Marion Just, professor at Wellesley College, investigates the role of news and advertising in influencing public discourse about campaign issues, and in turn, candidates. The extent to which public discourse during a campaign centers on issues favoring one candidate over another is considered a good predictor of election outcomes. This paper studies how people develop schemas, or a mental image, of candidates in relation to issues. The vehicle for this study was a series of focus groups exposed to TV news and advertising during the 1990 Senate race in North Carolina. Individuals who were unfamiliar with the race were shown news and political advertising from the campaigns of Jesse Helms and Harvey Gantt. Kern and Just then observed how individuals employed their values, beliefs, and prior information and experiences to create schemas for Helms and Gantt.

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