Visual framing by media in debates affects public perception

by IANS |

New York, June 24 (IANS) Researchers have found that visual techniques used by the media in debates during elections play a big role in changing public perception.

The study, published in the journal "Politics and the Life Sciences", shows that during the televised 2016 presidential primary debates, Donald Trump was the clear winner in terms of visual framing by the media, such as camera time and solo shots.

"Although the questions asked and the speaking time given to the candidates can certainly influence how the candidates convey themselves and their policy positions, perhaps a more primal, subtle and pervasive means by which the media affects public perceptions of candidates is how it visually depicts each candidate," said the researchers from the University of Arkansas in the US.

For the findings, the researchers studied the first two 2016 Republican and Democratic debates frame-by-frame, keeping track of aggregate camera time, average shot time and the type of shot such as solo, split screen, side-by-side, multiple candidate and audience reaction for each candidate.

Their premise was that the way media producers visually depict a candidate in a debate gives viewers subtle, non-verbal information about the candidate's leadership abilities and traits. 

Among Republicans, the researchers found that Trump garnered the most camera time by far in both 2016 debates, followed by Jeb Bush.

"The visual framing findings in this study suggest that in debates with numerous candidates on stage, there were big winners and big losers. During the early debates of the 2016 presidential election, the big winner was Donald Trump," the researchers said.

Hillary Clinton received the greatest amount of camera time in both debates, followed by Bernie Sanders. Clinton likewise spent proportionately less time in multiple candidate shots, said the study.

"If seeing is believing, then who chooses what and who we see, and how we see them, has enormous influence and responsibility for a functioning Republic," said Patrick A. Stewart, Associate Professor at The University of Arkansas.

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