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Agenda-Setting,Priming, Framing and Media Effects on thePublic Opinion

Themedia perform a critical function in the political space in anydemocratic nations. It has two primary functions: The media reportnews and provide opinions. Both print and electronic media are themost important source of information and much of what citizens knowabout the world. Most importantly what is reported in the media andhow information relating to various aspects is framed has tremendousimplication in the way that people respond and view political issues.Media commentary that encompasses newspaper editorials, televisionprograms, talks shows on radio and even blogs has significantinfluence on how American view their leaders and voting pattern(Habel 2). Conventional wisdom dictates that views canvassed by mediaelites in the aforementioned venues have great repercussions in thepublic domain. Opinion segments of newspapers and opinion framingprovide media elites and political commentators with a chance topersuade the public.

Itis through print media and mediums that elites can voice theirpolitical leaders that they prefer openly and forthrightly with asmuch zeal as they deem necessary (Habel 2). Aspects such asobjectivity and timeliness are the guiding principles to journalistswhen they are reporting news but opinion framing and programming andop-ed pages provide media elites and politicians discretion over thesubject they navigate and positions they declare. In such a for a,they are at liberty to disregard particular events or even policiesexclusively, even if these are the most paramount issues within thepublic domain. Therefore by far and large, the media acts as anautonomous agent, potentially moving the public towards their idealposition. In this paper we shall use articles from The New YorkTimes, Wall Street Journal and Fox News to illustrate how agendasetting, priming and framing in mass media can influence publicopinion and shape political decisions. We shall show that rather thanmass media playing its role as the opinion leader, it is has mutatedinto reactive media that changes public opinion.

TheInfluence of Biased Media

Mediaproducers and publishers dedicate considerable resources and time totheir opinion segments. In the eye as well as mind of the public,firms such as Fox are closely associated with opinion indoctrination.Dailies like the New York Times, Wall street Journal and even theWashington Post among others have cultivated repute for ideologicalviewpoint fronted on their individual editorial pages (Habel 2).To alarge extent candidates endorsed by these editorial pages have higherchances of clinching contested posts, as their information has aninfluence on the way that Americans view political bigwigs.

Newspriming defines the effects that agenda setting can have on the waythat the public evaluates public figures. Agenda setting influencesthe perception and view of the public through application of thematicissues to evaluate a political figure. This is how media affectsvoter behavior and attitudes. For example during the 2014 midtermelection, Fox News Contributor Rove Karl used the issue of theAffordable Health Care to discredit the Incumbent Senator and theObama administration. In Colorado, Rove used this theme to swing thepublic opinion against Senator Udall (Rove 1).

Theeffects of media agenda setting and priming have profound effects onvoter’s behavior and attitudes. Prior to the 2014 midtermelections, Us President Barrack Obama and most of the Democraticsenators were evaluated based on the impacts of the Affordable HealthCare. Persuasion can also occur when the public is not activeprocessors of the information provided in the media. It was apparentthat Fox News contributor Rove Karl was using distorted and wrongfigures to make the Affordable Healthcare Act a liability to theDemocratic incumbent Senator in Colorado. He cited that theAffordable Care Act had no effects on most families, and only 16percent of Americans were able to witness the benefit of the Act.

Inhis Wall street Journal column, Rove contested that the AffordableCare Act would emerge as a key liability to Democratic senatorsheading for the November midterm elections. He was quoted saying thatabout 54 percent of Americans had been hurt by Obamacare (Rove 1).This made the incumbent Senator Udall extremely vulnerable in theface of a formidable republican candidate Gardner, who had a slightedge in popularity. In November elections, Gardner defeated Udallsomething that was partially blamed on the unpopularity of theAffordable Care Act. Rove had used misleading information to heightenfear about higher insurance premiums and annulment in Colorado.

ThePolitical Action Committee had devoted $8.6 million to negativeadvertisement against the democratic senator. By using the AffordableCare as a theme to the agenda for shape public opinion, ColumnistRove of the Wall street journal was successful in influencing thepublic against the incumbent democratic senator. In actual sensemajority of the citizens of Colorado benefited from the Obamahealthcare reforms. Based on findings by Gallup Colorado insurancecoverage has considerably expanded in the last three years, the rateof the uninsured individuals fell from 17 percent to 11 percent bythe first half of 2014 (Rove 1).


Themass media may not be very effective in shaping how the public shallaccept views in the media report, but have particularly been verysuccessful in determining what Americans consider as noteworthy. Themanner in which New York Times reported the issues that are likely todetermine winners and losers in the 2014 midterm elections, has animmense gravity in swaying Americans support toward and against aparticular candidate.

OnNovember 2, the New York Times reported that Obamas low approvalrating would deal a fatal blow to democratic candidates in themidterm elections. In the article ‘’OnElection’s Eve, G.O.P. Is Confident, but Voters Are Sour’’,influential political JournalistsJonathanWeismanand AshleyParker,highlighted the main issues that had made bitter against the Obamaand democratic led administration. First, they indicated that, anypresident having a low approval rating among Americans in most casesloses out to other party in midterm elections. They succinctly citedthe high Bush approval rating in 2002, which invariably saw his partyrecord major victories in midterm elections (Jonathanand Ashley,1). Inaddition, the two journalists indicated that, the main cause ofAmericans bitterness is mainly because ‘’Washington does notlisten, Washingtondoesn’t lead and Washington doesn’t deliver’’ (Jonathanand Ashley,1).On the eve of the elections, the issues of how Obamacare was infamousamong Americans and conservative Republicans, how the president lowperformance would impact on the gubernatorial, senatorial and localelections were a major agenda in the New York Times political opinionsegment (Jonathanand Ashley,1). It is true that, the mass media may not succeed in totally swayingAmericans to vote to a particular candidate, but by repeatedly andincessantly raising a given topic, it can spark issues and questionsand discussions among the public. More often than not, suchdiscussion is poised towards the opinion given on the paper, andwhich in this case is against democratic candidates. It is clearthat, the New York Times made ‘’Obama’’ and his policiesregarding healthcare and immigration the agenda in their politicalcolumn, and the opinion of experienced journalist ultimately hadmomentous influence on voter choice and opinion. Throughagenda setting, political issues are identified and made salient inthe public eye and thought. However, agenda setting alone cannotinfluence voter opinion, in order to vote for or against a certainparty or politicians. This denotes the process through which, themedia can influence and shape the consideration that the public takeinto account when making decisions, and verdict on political issuesand candidates.

Theamount of space and time in the mass media, spared for a particularissue has the potential of making the public alert and receptive tothe issue. In the same vein, it is important to note that, theperception of the public is affected by historical context with whichindividual are familiar. It is evident that, media is one of thenotable sources of information for majority of people in a democraticcountry, and as such, through it, the public can experience someissues that influence their decision. In addition, media reporting onthe eve of the midterm elections was very strong making it extremelyhard for Americans to totally ignore the political evener. Suchforceful reporting especially in major dailies such as New York Timeshas the power to create an audience that is momentarily engrossed onthe prevailing event. Political media priming is the practice inwhich journalists and reports thoroughly cover a particular issue,giving it maximum attention and purposely decides to ignore otherissues. The effect of this partial reporting is altering thestandards through which the public evaluate political leaders andcandidates.

Primingis a theory that is pegged on the assumption that, the public doesnot have detailed facts and understanding about political matters.This only takes into account only things that they are conversantwith when making political choices, and as such must consider theinformation that is readily available in the mass media. On the eveof the 2014 midterm elections, Fox News rand a headline with aheading ‘’2014 midterm elections may be a total rejection ofPresident Obama, his policies and his leadership’’. It isapparent that, such a title of an article has a power to influencepolitical decision, especially when it is repeated many times and indifferent media outlets. In the article, the author Nancy Pelosidescribes the November elections as ‘’Anti-Obama Elections’’(Jonathanand Ashley,1).While the author is very critical about the Obama administration, sheopts to remain silent about any positive contribution that thepresident might have made in the lives of Americans. Clearly, suchstatements were not meant for the president to discredit democraticcandidates who are perceived as the agents of the incumbentpresident. For example, Karl Rove used the diagram below in wallstreet journal to show that, Obamacare has had very little effects onAmericans, and the outcome of the lections seemed to show that somemembers of the public concurred with Rove.


Inagenda setting, both print and electronic media has the ability tofocus the public attention towards a particular issues, politicalleader or even political party. In the diagram shown above, thepublic can clearly rate the effectiveness of the one of the mostcontroversial policies of Democrats and that has been used byRepublicans to swing voters against democratic candidates and Obamaadministration. In this respect the media agenda has been transformedinto a public agenda (Jonathanand Ashley,1).Issues raised by skilled reporters and journalists in the media, andwhich sometimes constitute personal opinion, are sometimes viewed bythe public that uses such media as the main source of information,and as the facts of the underlying issues. In priming, the focus ofthe public is maintained around specific issues which with time formthe basis for making political choices and decisions.

Experiencedjournalists Newt Gingrich in a New York Times article indicated that,the coming midterm election would be a ‘’Republican Revolution’’. From the report it was apparent that, Republican would take controlof both Houses, and that it would afford Americans opportunity toaccept or reject Obama policies. In the article, Gingrich statesthat, majority of Democratic candidates had spent months ofcampaigning denying about their support of the agenda pursued inWashington (Jonathanand Ashley,1). The media postulated that Republicans could take control of UnitedStates Congress. On the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, opinion ininfluential mass media was poised towards Republicans. In the end theeffect of agenda setting, priming and framing was all conspicuous asRepublicans went on to win most of the senatorial and gubernatorialelection and took total control of the United States Congress. Itwas all too clear that, media impacts in states such as Alaska, Iowa,Georgia, Louisiana and Colorado was very influential in shapingpublic opinion.


Fromthe above, it is clear that, the media had an enormous role to playin the 2014 midterm elections. Dailiessuch as the New York Times and the Wall street Journal and even theWashington Post have cultivated repute for ideological viewpointfronted on their individual editorial pages. Prior to the 2014midterm elections, Barrack Obama and most of the senators wereevaluated based on the impacts of the Affordable Health Care. However, Fox News contributor Rove Karl cited that the AffordableCare Act had no effects on most families, and only 16 percent ofAmericans were able to witness the benefit of the Act. On November 2, the New York Times reported that Obamas low approvalrating would deal a fatal blow to democratic candidates in themidterm elections, as depicted in the article ‘’On Election’sEve, G.O.P. Is Confident, but Voters Are Sour’’.

Inaddition, media reporting on the eve of the midterm elections wasvery strong making it extremely hard for Americans to totally ignorethe political evener. On the eve of this midterm elections, Fox Newsrand a headline with a heading ‘’2014 midterm elections may be atotal rejection of President Obama, his policies and hisleadership’’. All these major news outlets had a great power toinfluence political decision, especially when these issues repeatedmany times and in different media outlets.


Habel,Philip. Followingthe Opinion Leaders?: The Dynamics of Influence among Media Opinion,the Public, and Politicians.Department of Political Science.Southern Illinois University Carbondale.2012

Jonathan,Weismanand Ashley,Parker.OnElection’s Eve, G.O.P. Is Confident, but Voters Are Sour. TheNew York Times.2014.Retrieved from:

Rove,Karl. Elections,Government,HealthCare, HealthCare Reform, TheSenate. WallStreet Journal. Retrieved from: