To provide a better understanding of how partisan media outlets impact viewer opinions, Dr. Glen Smith, assistant professor of political science at the University of North Georgia (UNG), is conducting research and experiments aided by an internal grant designed to further faculty research.
Smith was awarded a Presidential Summer Scholar Award in fall 2013 through an internal grants program initiated by UNG President Bonita Jacobs to support meaningful research, scholarly and creative activities.
"Ongoing faculty development is critical to faculty excellence, and, as a result, student achievement," Jacobs said when announcing the initiative in the fall. "It is imperative that our faculty have in-depth opportunities to enhance their knowledge and advance their disciplines."
The $7,500 award includes a $2,000 stipend for a student assistant.
"The Presidential Summer Scholar Award will help me complete a book and journal article examining how partisan media outlets affect attitudes toward political leaders," Smith said. "In brief, I argue that partisan media outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC make viewers more negative toward leaders in the opposing party, but do not have much influence on feelings toward the candidate they ultimately vote for. I argue that this increases overall negativity toward politicians, which in turn makes it more difficult for political leaders to reach compromise on important matters of public policy."
Smith plans to gather data using surveys, controlled experiments and content analysis.
"The most innovative approach in this study is using variation in the amount of content from a particular source to predict subsequent changes in viewer attitudes toward political leaders," Smith said. "This approach overcomes many of the methodological challenges that have stymied previous attempts to measure media effects on public opinion. In this way, this research represents a real breakthrough in our understanding of the contribution of ideologically-oriented media."
Smith's student assistant, Danielle Williams, is a sophomore majoring in history and will spend two months this summer conducting research, writing and gathering data. Smith said the project will provide Williams with valuable experience.
"This project will help develop my writing and analysis abilities regarding my intended career's job responsibilities," said Williams, who plans to pursue a career as a counter-terrorism analyst. "I believe that everyone should understand and be involved in politics, and know how media can influence perceptions and voting behavior. Many people may not recognize the role the media plays in politics on a daily basis. Some news programs may change and twist their coverage to influence the viewer's emotions to appeal to their political standpoint."
The grant will also fund Smith's participation in the meeting of the American Political Science Association, where he will present a paper highlighting several aspects of his book.
"The APSA meeting is the most prominent conference in political science, and is attended by researchers, journalists and practitioners from all over the world, which provides an excellent opportunity to showcase the University of North Georgia to a large audience," Smith said. "This grant will advance UNG's commitment to professional engagement among faculty and undergraduate research."