Media, Race, and Presidential Legitimacy: The Role (and Non-Role) of Mass Media in the Assessment of Presidential Legitimacy

by Nicholle Michelle Zarkower

Institution: University of Arizona
Year: 2016
Keywords: Linked Fate; Mass Media; Presidential Legitimacy; Race; Television News; Communication; Expectation States
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2085860
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10150/621068


That Barack Obama's race was a factor, for both blacks and whites, in the 2008 general election is well-documented. As the majority in this country, the white electorate's response to the nation's first successful African-American presidential contender is of particular interest because it revealed the persistent effects of racism. Scholars have suggested contemporary forms of racism (e.g., Ditonto et al., 2013) explained the reluctance of white citizens to cast their ballots for an African American. This dissertation approaches the topic from a different angle, arguing deep-seated beliefs about which individual characteristics define a legitimate president, race in this project, affected voting decisions, especially among whites. Such beliefs, or 'status expectations' (Ridgeway&Berger, 1986), are evident every day in social interactions and are also reflected in the mass media, especially in the vivid medium of television, which was proposed to reinforce status beliefs about presidential legitimacy among white viewers. African Americans, in contrast, were hypothesized be inured to status beliefs represented in television campaign coverage because of a protective, ingroup orientation called 'linked fate,' (Dawson, 2004), the belief that life chances of the individual are inextricably intertwined with life chances of the black race as a whole. Therefore, while mass media would affect whites' assessments of presidential legitimacy, linked fate would lead African Americans to reject the status beliefs about presidential legitimacy embedded in televised content because this medium has historically derogated their 'ingroup'. Findings, however, did not support this proposed insulating effect of linked fate, which was operationalized as perceived black racial group favoritism. In fact, moderating relationships, even when statistically significant, typically added little explanatory value to or confounded interpretation of the presidential legitimacy models. Thus, baseline models with main effects were the clearest and most statistically powerful in discerning which variables had the greatest impact on Obama and McCain presidential legitimacy assessments. For both candidates, party identification and race were consistently the most influential predictors. But, for McCain, the effect of conservative partisanship was particularly acute, with an effect size more than three times the effect size of race and four times the size of the most powerful media effect, Fox News believability. In contrast, multiple predictors of comparable effect size factored into Obama legitimacy assessments. Measured by both number of statistically significant media variables and magnitude of effect sizes, Obama's legitimacy assessments were more affected by media predictors than were McCain's. For Obama presidential legitimacy, the most influential variables were Democratic partisan identification, black race, Fox News believability (negatively related), and perceived black racial group favoritism. The next most influential predictors were… Advisors/Committee Members: Kenski, Kate (advisor), Kenski, Kate (committeemember).