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If you could buy shares in a political psychologist …

Shanto Iyengar is probably the most important political psychologist working in the field today. He is the first person I know of to provide scientific insight into what makes modern media campaigning so successful. If I could buy shares in academics, this would be the guy I would invest all my chips in. He will be recognised as a star in years to come.

Iyengar’s work takes on the key issues in the American Political Marketplace. Check out some of his researchat the Stanford Political Communiction Lab.

As an example, he gives fantastic insight into how negative campaigning works, and why it is bad for democracy.

What makes Iyengar different from other commentators is that he can back up pretty much everything he says from empirical evidence – surveys, past election results and controlled experiments -. A lot of the other material you can read in the field is either speculation, based solely on hunches and personal experience, or else completely obvious.

Most of the research reproduced on his website is pretty easy to read. For some of it, you might need an understanding of what’s called ‘The Lasswell Model’, after Harold Lasswell, one of PR gurus of the century. It’s also worth knowing something about Hovland, who was the first person to make experimental investigations into political psychology at the beginning of the Cold War.

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  1. Hello Antoin,

    I thought it interesting (going back to what seems to be your first post) that no one has left a comment for your effort.

    And more’s the shame, as both your Iyengar reference (which seems strangely timely… given its contemporary references to FEMA and the Katrina response only a few weeks ago yet your pointing to it in 2003… must have been republished) and the Lasswell formula were invaluable updates for my modest readings on media theory ie. “Manufacturing Consent” or “Crowds and Power” which grace my shelves.

    Here in hole-in-the-wall Vermont (although surprisingly close to County Limerick) I’ve been arguing for fierce oversight of media buyouts. Having gotten a hard-won position to argue face-to-face in our version of a “media court” (Vermont’s Public Service Board, as cable television is regulated as a utility in this state) with the giants, as it were, I found myself in the enviable place not unlike that highlighted by Iyengar.

    In front of four judges (called Hearing Officers) and contesting, through cross-examination, statements made by a Comcast vice-president on the stand, I could say some fairly broad and sharply polemical statements. Given I was the only lay person with appearance rights in a room with at least 20 solicitors making appearances on behalf of the major parties (including Adelphia Cablevision, Comcast and Time-Warner, as well as the State of Vermont) I could pull a few statements from the hat which were well outside the domain of the docket… and were heavily objected to by one or more of the opposing attorneys. But given my lay status, and the thrust of my arguments as they landed upon the witnesses for the well-funded principals, the judges either found me entertaining or were highly curious to see where giving me a long leash would lead… and overrode objections.

    As a result, things were said about media ownership and protection of monied interests that were quite outside the limits of normal cross examination (the State’s attorney pointed asked that all my questions and all the answers given by Comcast’s witness be struck from the record… and was refused). As Iyengar notes, however… once an “image” is out of the bag, it can’t be put back in – whether painted with words or with televised images. So in effect, by the judges permitting me to speak in this nationally-watched case, they were allowing themselves to be influenced by normally “unpermitted” speech – allowing a propagandist for free speech and media diversity into a case which aims to settle the terms of sale of cable television systems in 81 Vermont towns and cities (from one media giant to another). I found it all highly invigorating, and commendable of the judges, that they let such a “bully pulpit” into their otherwise pristine court.

    One of the issues at stake is exactly how Comcast is to be compelled to pay what is called a “franchise fee” in each of the relevent towns, so that a portion of their gross annual revenue goes to an independent organization providing public access services openly to the entire citizenry of such a town (and I admit here that I’m temporarily administering such an access organization).

    They were whining all the way to the bank about competitive pressures from satellite services, etc. and dissing the horrid “revenue tax” they have to bear. In the brief I filed from the Town of Brattleboro after the hearings, I said this…

    “State of Vermont
    Public Service Board
    Docket 7077

    Response of the Town of Brattleboro –

    The Department of Public Service has made a long and continuous effort to protect the consumers of the State of Vermont in their relationship with telecommunications providers. Some of these efforts have hinged on the principle that the public’s provision (by way of municipalities) of rights-of-way, pole use and preferential access to homes and businesses to a cable operator conveys with it an obligation of the cable operator to return, without complaint, a fair portion of its earnings to the community.

    A further protection, supported by the federal Cable Communications Act of 1984 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, acknowledges that the package of cable channel services flowing into homes from the cable operator rarely or never highlights local news or viewpoints, and they are instead usually drowned or absent in the barrage of entertainment services and national celebrity news. Protecting the right of citizens to speak to their neighbors through the medium of television became a cornerstone for public access legislation. Guarantees for channel allocation and funding mandated by Congress have been further clarified and strengthened by Vermont’s first and then revised Public Service Board Rule 8.4.

    Pressure at the federal level to reduce or remove mandates to fund the public’s right to access television; evolution of cable technology into digital services permitting subscriber-controlled rewind, slow motion, picture-in-picture and clip storage; competition for bandwidth as the telecom-providing cable operator pushes into territory once used by upstream drops and municipal networks; and competitive access to subscriber homes from telecom giants wanting to provide television without public access content all strain the existing rule making.

    It is apparent that Vermont is a national leader in regulating cable communications, with fairness to the cable operators and a keen eye guarding against encroachments of the public’s right to emerging technology, correct funding, and outreach opportunities for this essential shared resource.

    With this in mind, Brattleboro asks the Board to view the substantive issues in Docket 7077 as a significant test of both the newly revised Rule 8 and as an opportunity to clarify the public’s right to cable services which include guarantees of negotiated access technical and channel capability, sufficient funding for AMO operations and capital needs, appropriate leverage to enforce provisions and insistence on expanding, rather than contracting, uses of access technology for Vermonters into the future.

    We, understandably, also ask for maintenance of a problem-free cable infrastructure; stable placement of access channels in affordable tiers of service; personable and timely complaint response; responsible and timely line extensions; relief from excessive fees; local municipal, AMO, library and school benefits of any emerging cable and fiber-born cable and information technology; and accurate financial accounting to the AMO’s of broken-out by town and income class of the cable operator’s basis for annual gross income.

    – Computation of Cable Operator Gross Income

    Within the draft CPG, under “General Terms” and within section 4 there is a reference to the computation of a “gross revenue tax.” We object to inclusion of this term. Cable television franchise fees, as assessed in Vermont, had traditionally been a well-regarded contribution by the cable operator to the public good, a reasonable funding to insure that the home subscribers see local viewpoints on television, and a quid pro quo for near-monopoly use of public assets and access to homes. This is not a tax.

    That said, section 4 articulates a definition of cable operator gross revenues with reasonable scope but which fails to note income derived from the export of channel(s) originating from the cable system head end. Whether inter-system or interstate, such revenues are to be distinguished from cable subscriber fees charged to consumers at the destination cable system.

    Export of cable channels, as a commodity, accomplishes a service for the adjoining cable system in that the adjoining system expands its channel offering to its subscribers. Whatever compensation is returned to the sourcing cable system for the exported channels shall be considered in the calculation of the gross annual income of the exporting cable operator.

    In addition, if the exported signal carries a PEG access channel from the headend of the exporting cable operator, and that PEG access channel(s) is distributed to households in the cable system importing the channels, then the AMO originating the PEG channels shall be considered the designated AMO for the importing cable system. Calculations of the gross annual income of the cable system distributing the imported PEG channel(s) will be the basis for franchise payments negotiated with the originating AMO.”

    and on and on… etc. Thought I’d strike up a chord from over here and see if we can engage. My annual field work trips to Ireland lead me to the other side of the country, but perhaps I could benefit from what seems to be an extremely thorough examination, on your part, of emerging issues in media theory.

    My non-tenured teaching positions at several colleges (in Media Arts) have not led me into any really critical thinking on these matters. The semiotics-based dialog at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (where I was briefly chair of the Photography in Design department) was the closest, but frankly I found it lacked the pragmatic emphasis you seem to apply in Ireland.

    I look forward to your response. The media playing field is shifting rapidly here, and at a big-stakes time. In Congress at the moment are some extremely manipulated hearings (under Republican leadership) to diminish or even eliminate funding for public access television. The pathway there is fairly simple, but no one’s said it out loud. Nonetheless, Comcast has already taken the first step here in Vermont and nationally, by introducing telephone service to their cabled homes via the tv cable wires. Within a short time, as they play tit-for-tat with the telcoms (who just introduced televisions into homes… but without local access provisions or funding… via the phone wire) they will undoubtedly play their next hand.

    Which is “we’re all doing the SAME thing, except THEY don’t have to pay a cable access fee and we do!!! Wah! Wah! Wah!” And in the interest of fairness, will the telcoms be made to introduce public access channels and locally-produced media content (as well as pay to support its creation)? No. In the interest of fairness, Comcast and its brothers will be relieved of the unfair burden of having to uniquely bear the burden not shared by their telecom cohorts… and public access content will be de-funded. Or so I see it, unless there is outcry about such an outcome.

    Not on the horizon… yeah though I squint into the sun and peer hither and yon. Not even FAINT cries of protest, except the predictable-and-jaded caterwauls from folks like myself who actually run the organizations and hence will lose their salaries in the near future.

    a chroi
    Michael Billingsley