American Politics

Ideology, Public Opinion, and Media » Glossary

attentive public
That part of the public that is attuned to current affairs and its media coverage. Much of the American public is disinterested in politics and policy, so opinion leaders and policy makers must direct their ideas to, and seek support from, the smaller attentive public, rather than the broad, general public.
News reporters need to get information for their stories. When a source fears negative consequences if he or she divulges information, the reporter may agree to keep confidential (secret) the name of the source as the cost of getting the information. Such confidentiality can help the reporter (and perhaps the public) get critical information that otherwise would not be made public.
A political ideology that embraces individual opportunity, public order, and traditional values. Over the past few decades, more Americans have self-identified as conservative than as liberal, with moderates sometimes surpassing conservatives in number.
exit polls
Public opinion polls taken when voters exit the voting stations. Exit polls are used by media in an attempt to learn the results of an election early. They are also used by social scientists and the media to analyze variables influencing the election outcome (e.g., partisan trends, issue groupings and the vote).
Fairness Doctrine
A Federal Communications Commission rule that required radio and television stations to present controversial issues in a fair and balanced way, including providing equal air time for opposing views. The Supreme Court upheld the Fairness Doctrine in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC in 1969. In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration opposed the doctrine and in 1987, new commissioners at the FCC repealed it.
When the media report a story, the reporters set a context for the story, placing it in a setting, suggesting its boundaries, and presenting choices to news consumers. That is, they frame the story.
ideological self-identification
An individual's declaration of affinity with a particular political ideology. People self identify with an ideological label based on numerous factors, so such self identification may or may not match up with standard definitions of that ideology.
investigative reporting
A watchdog journalistic process of investigating wrongdoing by individuals or institutions, with the goal of holding power-wielders accountable for their actions. Investigative reporting often involves in-depth, long-term research and multi-article reporting revealing new information. It is based on documentary research, extensive interviewing, and undercover reporting and surveillance. Investigative reporting often reveals information others want to keep secret.
A political ideology that embraces equality, civil rights, and individual liberties. Over the past few decades, fewer Americans have self-identified as liberal than as conservative or moderate.
A political ideology that embraces individual liberty over state (governmental) authority, both in the realm of economic activity and personal or social activity.
media effects
The influence of mass media on public opinion and official government reaction, and thus even on public policy.
news conference
A gathering of news reporters with governmental or non-governmental sources, where the spokespeople reveal information to reporters, with the hope that it will get to the public. Reporters may use news conferences as vehicles for questioning officials, rather than simply regurgitating the information fed to them.
operational content
A precise statement about how observed behavior will be interpreted as representing a designated construct, thus defining the attribute by the way it is measured. For instance, an operational definition of conservatism would designate the content of conservatism in terms of policy positions, and measure an individual's ideology by that content.
political culture
The basic orientation of citizens toward politics, including their attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions of the traditions of political practice. For instance, a traditionalistic political culture is one in which citizens defer to traditional political elites and participate only minimally in the political system.
political ideology
A set of beliefs about politics. Individuals use ideologies as an organizing or filtering device for interpreting events, relationships, and policies.
political socialization
The teaching and learning of political knowledge, beliefs, and values. Political socialization begins in childhood, but continues throughout life. Agents of political socialization include parents, schools, peers, mass media, and other social institutions.
A political ideology that emphasizes government's role as an agent of the common man, the worker, and the farmer, in struggles against concentrated wealth and power. Historically in the United States, "populist" describes any political movement having popular backing which is also perceived to be acting in the interests of ordinary people rather than elites.
public opinion
Beliefs brought to the attention of decision makers. Public opinion is that opinion which government finds it prudent to heed, as the attentive public is not as large as the general public.
random sampling
In public opinion polling, the selection of a small set of people - the sample - randomly chosen from a broader population. Well designed random samples of public opinion yield results that more accurately represent opinion in the broader population than techniques not involving random selection such as respondent self-selection (e.g., mail-in or call-in responses) or purposive selection of respondents (e.g., quota sampling, snowball sampling).
tracking polls
Polling repeatedly over a period of time, with the intent of tracking changes in public opinion. Political campaigns often use tracking polls, with the added intent of altering campaign tactics in reaction to the trends discovered in the tracking polls to improve a candidate's chance winning the election.
yellow journalism
A style of journalism involving sensationalized reporting popularized in the late nineteenth century in the newspapers of barons of mass journalism such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph. The term is used today as a derogatory description of sensationalized, gossip-oriented, entertainment-driven news coverage.