Christopher Wlezien

Policy, the Media, and Public Opinion

3:30pm - 5:00pm / Thursday 3rd December 2020
Type: Webinar / Category: Department
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Abstract: Mass media are critical to representative democracy. This is well known and acknowledged throughout modern political history, from the founding of democratic republics to the present day. Information about government policy and performance is central to effective accountability and control, and it is difficult to imagine how large-scale democracy would work without reasonably accurate media coverage of current affairs. It is of some significance, then, that we are in the midst of both public and scholarly debate about the nature and quality of media coverage in the United States (US) and elsewhere. The current climate is in some ways relatively unique, but the availability of inaccurate information is not one of those ways. This observation is the starting point for the research on which the talk is based. The intention is partly to respond to very current concerns about the state of public affairs, especially the role that mass media currently play in connecting public preferences and policymaking in representative democracies. But we also take seriously the possibility that, while there are times that media coverage is inaccurate, there are times when it is accurate as well. We leverage over 40 years of data on public policy and media coverage across five policy domains in the US to measure and begin to understand both the successes and failures of mass media in a modern representative democracy. Ascertaining the quantity and quality of mass media coverage is a defining feature of the work, but we also want to know how well this coverage informs the public about the actions of government. For this, we need to assess whether the public actually receives (and accepts) that information, which leads us to public perceptions and preferences themselves, motivated in large part by the thermostatic model. Indeed, this was the motivation for our research on media coverage of policy, and occupies a good deal of our attention.

Bio: Christopher Wlezien is Hogg Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. He holds or has held positions – both permanent and visiting – at various universities in the United States and other countries. His primary, ongoing research develops and tests a “thermostatic” model of public opinion and policy, and his other major project assesses the evolution of voter preferences over the course of the election “timeline.” Wlezien has published numerous articles and chapters as well as a number of books, including Degrees of Democracy, The Timeline of Elections, and Who Gets Represented? More information is available on his website: https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/government/faculty/profile.php?eid=cw26 629


For further information or for receiving the Zoom meeting details please contact Dr Luca Bernardi (Luca.Bernardi@liverpool.ac.uk)