Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Disposition, Political Parody, and the 2012 Election

Ever wonder about the impact of those political parody videos you were watching during the 2012 Election cycle? While you might have found it funny to see Barack Obama or Mitt Romney made fun of, were others finding these things funny as well? Was anybody else watching?

A new article I just published in Human Communication Research addresses these questions and more by applying the disposition theory of humor to the study of both political parody appreciation and the effects of humor exposure.

First, a little background: The Pew Research Center reports that 55% of all registered voters went online during the 2012 Election cycle to watch political video. 37% watched humorous or parody videos dealing with political issues. So yes, you weren't the only one watching those YouTube clips.

The research featured in the HCR article is based on an experimental study that asked subjects to watch one of three sets of videos: a set that featured Democratic-directed humor, one set that included Republican-directed humor, and apolitical content that acted as a control. Within each video set, subjects saw an original video clip (a music video) and then the parody version. For the Democratic-directed humor set, the original video was the Gotye song, "Somebody that I Used to Know," while the parody version was a song that went viral called, "Obama that I Used to Know." For the Republican-directed humor set, the original video was Psy's popular, "Gangnam Style," while the parody version was the song, "Mitt Romney Style," created and promoted by The apolitical cells featured the Carly Rae Jepsen song, "Call Me Maybe," and the Sesame Street parody, "Share it Maybe," sung by the lovable Cookie Monster.

When analyzing parody appreciation, the results first suggested that disposition (or how much you like Obama or dislike Romney) had a differential impact on humor appreciation. Specifically, those who liked Obama were less likely to appreciate the Democratic-directed humor and more likely to appreciate the Republican-directed humor that attacked Mitt Romney. At the same time those who disliked Romney were less likely to appreciate Democratic-directed humor targeting Obama, but more likely to appreciate the "Mitt Romney Style" clip that poked fun of the Republican nominee.

The study also looked at the interplay between disposition, type of comedy watched, and resulting effects on attitudes -- in this case post-test favorability toward Romney and Obama. The results highlighted a significant effect on attitudes toward Obama for those who dislike Romney and were exposed to the Democratic-directed humor attacking Obama. The bottom line: disliking a candidate and viewing humor where that candidate is the victor can dampen your attitudes toward the victim. For campaigns looking to manage the fallout from these viral parody videos, the research suggests that it may be quite valuable to work to quickly change the media narrative so that attack humor doesn't negatively impact how voters think about your candidate, particularly for those who already dislike the other guy.

Overall the research presents a timely and relevant case study and makes use of some really fun video content (see clips pasted below). From an academic standpoint, the study updates the use of the disposition theory of humor as a key framework in political communication research and also pushes the boundaries of the theory further to look not just at humor appreciation or processing but also humor effects.

Video Clips:

Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know,"

Democratic-directed humor: "Obama That I Used to Know,"

Psy's "Gangnam Style,"

Republican-directed humor: "Mitt Romney Style,"

Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe,"

Cookie Monster's "Share It Maybe,"

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Article: Public Opinion Toward Employment Discrimination, 1987-2012

A new article I wrote on trends in public opinion toward employment discrimination is now available online at The International Journal of Public Opinion Research. The article will later be in print in the journal's special issue on Public Opinion about Gay Rights/Marriage being edited by Paul Brewer. The piece examines evolving views on whether school boards should have the authority to fire known homosexual teachers between 1987-2012 (N=35,578). In the process, I consider whether we have seen a sea change in public opinion on the issue similar to the dynamic we've recently been witnessing with the same-sex marriage debate.

As the chart below shows, 51.5% of Americans expressed support for the practice when Pew first started collecting data in 1987. By 2012, only 21% of Americans still expressed support for the practice. These individuals are what researchers call the hard core, those who retain minority viewpoints in the face of majority opposition. As the results suggest, this 21% or the hard core tend to be older males who are less educated, more religious, more conservative in their politics, and more likely to have old-fashioned values when it comes to marriage and family.

The analyses look at what factors explain support for variation in employment discrimination over time. Not surprisingly, the influence of religious and ideological value predispositions matters most but demographics (e.g., gender, age, and level of education) are also important as are key cultural values. Much like the same-sex marriage debate, the importance of partisanship (e.g., being a Democrat vs. Republican) wanes in importance over time and is no longer a significant factor driving opinions after 2002.

When it comes to change over time, the results show that the influence of year or time matters more between 2002-2012 than between 1987-2002 indicating that, much like the same-sex marriage debate, the rate or pace of change on this issue has shifted more rapidly, more recently.

One key take-away: while we've been primarily focusing our attention on marriage equality, opinions have shifted on other LGBT civil rights issues as well. At the same time, the US has yet to add sexual orientation to the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. While the US Senate supported the measure this past November, the bill stalled given a lack of support in the US House of Representatives. At the time of the article's drafting, fully 29 states failed to offer protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. So while opinions may have shifted just like with the case of marriage equality, legislation still lags behind.

Stay tuned for the summer release of the special issue which promises to present some interesting research on the current state of public opinion toward gay rights/marriage in the US and abroad.

More on the Pew Research Center's 1987-2012 Values data set.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Upcoming special issue of Mass Communication & Society: Entertainment Media and Politics

I'm very excited for the Spring 2014 release of Mass Communication & Society's special symposium issue on Entertainment Media and Politics spearheaded by guest editor, R. Lance Holbert.

It's really an honor to have my work included alongside the research of so many respected scholars of hybrid media including colleagues (and friends) Heather LaMarre, Kristen Landreville, and Danna Young.

A table of contents for the special issue is pasted below. Happy spring reading!

Volume 17, Number 3, 2014 • May-June Symposium—Entertainment Media and Politics

Introduction R. Lance Holbert, Guest Editor
Strike While the Iron is Hot: Seizing on Recent Advancements to Propel the Study of Political Entertainment Media Forward


Hoon Lee and Nojin Kwak
The Affect Effect of Political Satire: Sarcastic Humor, Negative Emotions, and Political Participation

Bruce W. Hardy, Jeffrey A. Gottfried, Kenneth M. Winneg, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson
Stephen Colbert’s Civic Lesson: How Colbert Super PAC Taught Viewers about Campaign Finance

Mark Boukes, Hajo G. Boomgaarden, Marjolein Moorman, and Claes H. De Vreese
News with an Attitude: Assessing the Mechanisms Underlying Effects of Opinionated News

Franziska Roth, Carina Weinmann, Frank Schneider, Frederic Hopp, and Peter Vorderer
Seriously Entertained: Antecedents and Consequences of Hedonic and Eudaimonic Entertainment Experiences with Political Talk Shows on TV

Heather L. LaMarre, Kristen Landreville, Dannagal Young, and Nathan Gilkerson
Humor Works in Funny Ways: Examining Satirical Tone as a Key Determinant in Political Humor Message Processing

Amy B. Becker
Playing with Politics: Online Political Parody, Affinity for Political Humor, Anxiety Reduction, and Implications for Political Efficacy

Book Review
Reviewed by Gary Woodward
Kate Lacey, Listening Publics: The Politics and Experience of Listening in the Media Age

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mixing Manual Human Effort with the Power of Machine Learning

I really enjoy watching David Brooks and Mark Shields engage in a civil discussion of the week's news on the Friday broadcast of the PBS News Hour. While I don't always agree with David Brooks' politics, I do think he presents some very rational and pressing arguments in his work (his recent column on weed aside).

In today's New York Times, Brooks critiques our heightened love of machines and the use of automation to replace human dependent tasks like driving cars or picking stocks. Brooks makes the point that even in this age of rapidly expanding technology, there are certain human activities that machines just can't replicate. Brooks is certainly right on some fronts. But maybe the question isn't a dichotomous one -- machine vs. human? Perhaps, as I've seen in my own recent work with a team of computer science colleagues, it's about using machines to enhance human efforts. Relying on techniques from the world of artificial intelligence (e.g., automated machine learning, semi-supervised learning, etc.) can not only make human efforts more efficient but also exponentially increase the amount of data that we as communication researchers are able to process.

In one piece of our current project, my colleagues and I compare the accuracy of traditional manual content analysis coding with automated coding that uses a basic Naive Bayes classifier. Specifically, we're looking at traditional and new media coverage of the same-sex marriage debate in Maryland between 2011-2012. What we've found is that with a little supervision, our automated coding efforts can achieve levels of accuracy greater than 90% suggesting that it may make sense to apply these principles from natural language processing to make sense of even larger bodies of "old media" data.

We've also amassed a dataset of over 9 million tweets to look at new media content. Yet again we've paired manual coding efforts that capture relevancy and sentiment with automated techniques. We applied a Bayes classifier yet again to look at the relevancy of tweets downloaded during 2011-2012 and used support vector machines (SVM) to assess sentiment. The end result -- a much larger set of coded tweets and accurate results (> 90%) when we look at both relevance and sentiment.

In my opinion, the beauty of this project is the balance between human and machine activity. As a scholar of public opinion research and the marriage equality issue in particular, I bring my domain-specific knowledge to the project, applying public opinion theory and traditional content analysis techniques to the coding of the old and new media data. My computer science colleagues bring their knowledge of machine learning, their desire for high-performing algorithms, and their programming skills to the table. What has resulted is a significant interdisciplinary undertaking that pairs traditional mass communication research approaches with the power of computational social science.

We're now moving beyond the text to analyze the social network driving the Maryland-focused same-sex marriage conversation on Twitter between 2011-2012. And truth be told, none of this would have been possible if we hadn't started out with the idea of connecting man and machine. So perhaps, Mr. David Brooks, it's not about humans vs. machines but how can humans and machines work together to solve common, important problems.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Future Directions for Political Comedy Research

Now out in the latest edition of the National Communication Association's Communication Currents newsletter is an essay I've written with my colleague, Don Waisanen, about our recent review of the state of political comedy research.

The essay translates our recent article published in Review of Communication where we focus on defining the current boundaries of political comedy research. We discuss how research focuses primarily on comedy's features (e.g., things like comedy's devices and conventions, ideological and ethical functions, and contributions to public affairs and civic discourse) and the effects of exposure to this entertaining content (e.g., key outcomes like knowledge and learning, attitudes, and political engagement). The piece also reviews recent work on how viewers process, interpret, develop an affinity for, and come to understand political comedy content.

In the second half of the piece, we work to bridge the features and effects divide by offering 5 key directions for future political comedy research. They include:

1. Bringing conceptual clarity to political comedy's boundaries, terms, and definitions by developing a sharper vocabulary for the study of political comedy.

2. Focusing on the proliferation and diffusion of political comedy. It's time to better understand how comedy is shared and circulated on the Internet, the subcultures that develop around comedy content, and its influence on the political process.

3. Apply traditional mass communication approaches toward a study of the political comedy audience -- looking not just at patterns of exposure but also how audiences evaluate of a range of content types.

4. Better situating political comedy in the larger post-broadcast environment to more fully understand the institutional structures against which comedy operates.

5. Study the effects of comedy over time rather than through the predominant cross-sectional perspective. Doing so will help us understand what features and impacts of comedy content are important over time, various election cycles, etc.

As we conclude, "Communication scholars have been at the forefront of research on political comedy. From studying the pressures political comedy puts on our public discourse to its direct and indirect effects on citizens, communication studies will continue leading efforts to examine the seriously funny."

What do you think is the future of political comedy research?