Image and Emotion in Voter Decisions

The Affect Agenda

By (author) Renita Coleman, Denis Wu

Publication date:

25 March 2015

Length of book:

246 pages


Lexington Books

ISBN-13: 9780739189955

Drawing on a decade of their own research from the 2000 to 2012 U.S. presidential elections, Renita Coleman and Denis Wu explore the image presentation of political candidates and its influence at both aggregate and individual levels. When facing complex political decisions, voters often rely on gut feelings and first impressions but then endeavor to come up with a “rational” reason to justify their actions. Image and Emotion in Voter Decisions: The Affect Agenda examines how and why voters make the decisions they do by examining the influence of the media’s coverage of politicians’ images. Topics include the role of visual and verbal cues in communicating affective information, the influence of demographics on affective agenda setting, whether positive or negative tone is more powerful, and the role of emotion in second-level agenda setting. Image and Emotion in Voter Decisions will challenge readers to think critically about political information processing and a new way of systematically thinking about agenda setting in elections.
From the perspective that elections should involve the rational evaluation of candidates’ issue positions, campaigns and voters that focus on images and emotions are generally disdained. But Coleman and Wu argue that candidate images and voter emotions are central to the electoral process because they stimulate voters to evaluate candidates. Previous research in political communication has focused largely on the first level of agenda setting (addressing issues), but in this book, the authors analyze the second level of agenda setting (addressing affect). This work is unique in two ways. First, it focuses on the visuals of candidates, rather than their words, and assesses them as positive or negative. Second, it measures the positive and negative emotions candidates engender in voters. In doing so, it measures the impact that mediated affect has on elections. The authors use a multi-modal approach that uses experiments as well as surveys that vary across time and location. The result is an overwhelmingly persuasive argument that the candidate images broadcast by various news media play an important role in the public agenda during elections. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate, research, and professional collections.