The Place of Daytime Talk in Political Opinion Formation

Various researchers have looked at the ways in which the media might be theorized to play a role in the facilitation, encouragement, and cementing of public opinion regarding a variety of issues. As a format that has been around for at least half a century, the daytime talk show should certainly be considered an important mass media phenomenon. Within the last couple of decades, hosts like Oprah Winfrey have been deemed significant for their direct influences on audiences’ thinking as well as their impact on global issues in general (Glynn et al. 228). When it comes to studies that have endeavored to investigate such individuals’ effects on audiences, their focus has tended to be related to either the hosts’ specific purposes or the more immediate responses of in-studio audiences. A study by Carroll J. Glynn et al. differs, however, in that its authors seek to better understand the precise role that talk shows play in influencing viewers’ political ideologies and perspectives related to social issues. Their paper, published in The Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media in 2007, aims to make sense of how the consumption of daytime talk media in particular—rather than just media use in general—contributes to shaping these things.

The central theories undergirding the methodology of Glynn et al. are the Agenda-Setting Theory, Cultivation Theory, and other general concepts related to public policy dynamics (242). In following this conceptual framework, the study is carried out with a domestic telephone survey in order to gather quantitative data relating to the respondents’ personal and ideological demographics, their amount of interaction with daytime talk shows, and whether or not they view these shows as reflecting reality. After identifying key themes related to the family that predominate across all of the most popular daytime talk shows today, the researchers proceed to investigate the role that these shows might possibly play in framing issues and evoking particular responses from typical members of the viewing audience (230-35).

By accounting for the various demographics that they do, the researchers are better able to establish a direct connection between people’s frequency of daytime talk show viewing and their personal perspectives on governmental involvement in issues relating to the family. For the purposes of this study, the social issues that were inquired about included the following: public-funded day care and health care, mandated employee leave for parents, increasing Medicare spending to cover prescription drugs, and increasing government spending on public education (236). The researchers ultimately found that more exposure to daytime talk shows tends to lead to a higher level of support for the relevant government policies endorsed by the shows’ hosts. In addition, this tendency seems to hold true regardless of the viewers’ own political orientations or other potentially-influential demographic factors (237). In essence, even if a viewer is heavily orientated toward philosophical conservatism or liberalism to begin with, the talk show host’s ability to showcase a problem provides greater potential for him or her to answer that problem. As a result, the viewer’s favorability toward the expressed opinions and proposed solutions can be that much more heightened (240-41).

Some reasons that the chosen approach of this study can be deemed appropriate include the researchers’ clear awareness of a gap that existed in previous studies, their use of specific theories to arrive at a research question, and their carefulness in selecting a sample that is representative of the entire population. Furthermore, since the agenda-setting paradigm has already been applied to understanding public perception toward political issues in the past (232), it is only natural that it would be deemed suitable for evaluating political opinion formation as a result of mediums outside of traditional press. Applying Cultivation Theory also allowed the researchers to expand the notion of the “’real’ world” being portrayed on television to the format of the daytime talk show (233). This ultimately promotes a more comprehensive understanding of television media for the benefit of future theorists who might carry out studies.

Although the study uses a sound methodology, there are additional theories that could have been employed to further examine the research question from different angles. For instance, it might have been helpful for Glynn et al. to consider the role that a daytime talk show host can play as an opinion leader, one who is engaged in the Two-Step Flow communication process. Just as Melvin L. DeFleur relates in Mass Communication Theories, the talk show host is entirely capable of generating interest in a subject matter by drawing more attention to it in the first place, thus making viewers more receptive to influence over what to think about an issue. By reiterating the perceived importance of dealing with family issues in audience members’ minds, hosts are able to both suggest the correctness of their positions and encourage eventual acceptance (177-78). Another concept that might have benefited this study is an incorporation of the Media-Influenced Diffusion of Innovation Theory. Since any political idea or policy position can rightly be called an “innovation” (227) that one is capable of taking on, a conceptual understanding of the daytime talk show host as an innovator or early adopter could be quite instructive. The process of sharing that takes place from the television studio to individual households illustrates a type of within-group diffusion (229), where the audience could be said to be acquiring information from a virtual friend that they encounter on an almost daily basis. Exposure to political policies that can potentially be enacted, especially in conjunction with regular interaction with the host as a source of this information, is fundamental in leading a viewer to the final step of actually adopting these ideas.

A final matter worth consideration is whether the study’s results could be extrapolated to other contexts or situations within society. This is certainly possible, as even the researchers themselves indicate. In their concluding section, Glynn et al. affirm that these findings could potentially be applied to policy issues beyond the family, including but not limited to “the death penalty, political tolerance, and abortion” (241). This leaves room open for future studies in similar areas of inquiry, as well as prompting more analysis that might help to further confirm the original findings. Beyond this, the research can also be considered important to the field of communication studies because it demonstrates how political opinion development can often be pragmatic or populist in nature. Those who would take on certain views after exposure to opinion leaders like Oprah Winfrey or Jerry Springer cannot be drawing their perspectives strictly from personal ideology. Rather, their views are sometimes born out of a tendency to latch onto favored host personalities and, as a result, they begin to gradually align more and more with those hosts’ own respective worldviews.

Works Cited

DeFleur, Melvin L. Mass Communication Theories. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2010. Print.

Glynn, Carroll J., et al. “When Oprah Intervenes: Political Correlates of Daytime Talk Show Viewing.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 51.2 (2007): 228-244. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.

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