Government and Politics

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Political scientists M. Kent Jennings and Richard G. Niemi (1974) have found that children who demonstrate high levels of political competence—by understanding the differences between political parties and between liberal and conservative philosophies—are more likely to become politically active during adulthood.

Like the family and schools, the mass media can have obvious effects on people’s thinking and political behavior. Beginning with the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates of 1960, television has given increasing exposure to political candidates. One result has been the rising importance of politicians’ "images" as perceived by the American public.

Today, many speeches given by our nation’s leaders are designed not for immediate listeners, but for the larger television audience. In the social policy section later, we will examine the impact of television on American political campaigns. Although television has obvious impact on elective politics, it has also become an important factor in other aspects of American political life.

In 1987, when a joint congressional committee held televised hearings on the Iran-contra scandal, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North’s outspoken testimony brought him a wave of public support. One effect of his media success, though primarily in the short run, was an increase in support for the "contras" and their effort to overthrow Nicaragua’s Marxist regime. By contrast.

Judge Robert Bork’s televised testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987 seemed to hurt his chances of winning confirmation as a Supreme Court justice. A number of communication studies have reported that the media do not tend to .

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