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Media Opinion in the Nixon/kennedy Debates

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Essay title: Media Opinion in the Nixon/kennedy Debates

Each day people are faced with the task of making difficult decisions. People make these decisions based on their beliefs, values and attitudes. Unfortunately, the majority of American citizens make their decisions based on information they receive from outside sources. In most cases, a primary information source in this country is television media. In fact, according to Girl Scouts of the USA, “Recent [Applied Research and Consulting] ARC primary research has shown that approximately 56% of American families have three or more working TVs in their homes” (Girl Scouts of the USA, 2000, p. 15). Media not only influences decision-making but also manipulate information to lead the general public in a direction that specifically benefits them. This gentle persuasion is most apparent in the political arena. Using the social learning theory and the balance theory, this essay looks at the ways in which media manipulate its viewers leading them to believe that the majority of the population is looking at things from a similar perspective. The message delivery sways the viewer to believe that they should have certain political views because those are the views shared by the rest of the country.

Conformity is a strong persuader. Thus, when an individual is led to believe they are the only one’s thinking in a certain way, the likelihood that the person can be swayed from their opinion increases. The balance theory is rooted in this premise. Fritz Heider, a social psychologist, developed the balance theory. According to the department of sociology at the University of Southern California, “Heider examined systems consisting of two people, Person and Other, and some third object X about which they both had opinions” (2002, p. 1). This third object could be anything: a political party, an idea, a rock group, a country or another person. An example of Heider’s theory would be, if Chris voted for George Bush and George Bush supported tax reform than Chris would support tax reform. However, if Chris voted for George Bush and George Bush supported Medicaid reform and Chris did not support Medicaid an imbalance would be created. According to Greg Kearsley,

“In Heider's theory, when beliefs are unbalanced, stress is created and there is pressure to change attitudes. The two main factors affecting balance are the sentiment (e.g., liking, approving, admiring) and unity (e.g., similarity, proximity, membership) qualities of beliefs. Balance exists if the sentiment or unity between beliefs about events or people are equally positive or negative; imbalance occurs when they are dissimilar in nature” (1994, p. 1).

When imbalance is created there is pressure from an opposing side to make things balance. This requires the persuasion of a viewpoint. Media, as previously mentioned, is a very strong persuader. If a person has a negative opinion of a candidate’s particular viewpoint and the media consistently runs advertisements promoting that particular viewpoint, a person may be more apt to change their minds based on the information they are receiving.

The media tends to make individuals believe they are the only people with that particular belief. Through the use of polls and graphic techniques individuals are swayed by the opinions they think other citizens hold. After all, it is proven that several people will conform in order to fit in rather than take the time and energy to sway others in their direction. Heider's basic hypothesis asserts that there is a tendency for people to achieve a balanced state. “Pressures toward balance may produce various effects. If no balanced state exists, then forces towards this state will arise, or the unit relations will be changed through action or through cognitive reorganization. If a change is not possible, the state of imbalance will produce tension” (Heider, 1946). People, for the most part, want to avoid unnecessary battles. If media provides information and seemingly sound logic, persuasion is achievable. In addition to persuasion by conformity however, the media also utilizes additional tactics to sway voters.

Observation and modeling are two of the strongest motivators of persuasion. In a democratic society, people are taught that they have individual freedoms. One of those freedoms is the freedom of choice. People typically make choices based on information that they know or things they have seen. The social learning theory of Albert Bandura emphasizes learning through observation and modeling. Bandura (1977) states:

"Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information

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