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Alexandria R.

Professor Hunt
CM 301-01
24 November 2017

The Priming Theory of Mass Media


When my family takes out our boat, and we haven’t been on it in a while, we need

to prime the engine. Priming it will prepare the engine for the action it is intended to

complete, ie, driving the boat forward. The same thing occurs with the The Priming

theory of Mass Media, which was introduced in 1982 by Shanto Iyengar, Mark Peters,

and Donald Kinder. This was specifically in relation to the influence the media has on

viewers, in terms of news coverage and what/how society reacts to the

messages. Priming is essentially the use of the media playing on the interests of the

people- generally speaking, society deems what is important based on what is in the

news. Through priming, media will omit information or stories that may overtake the

main message they are attempting to force to the top, as well as story selection. Wording

may be used to construe an alternative meaning or to sway viewpoints.

If the news sources are covering a specific topic or area, the public will have an

increased awareness of it, and therefore have more opinions regarding it. This is

especially important in politics, as it ties in with the agenda setting theory. A specific

topic (X) and a stance on that topic by a candidate may not be prevalent in (ex.) January

of an election year. However, if there were to be reports or an increased public

knowledge of this topic in mainstream media in say, July, there will then be a greater

chance the opinion/stance held by that candidate will be important in the later months of
the campaign. The media doesn’t tell society how to think about something, but rather

tells society what to be thinking about. It literally sets the agenda of what is or should

theoretically be important within the confines of a societal structure.


In terms of political agendas, this is extremely useful. It may not be as ethical or

morally sound, but for the winning side, it is necessary to form the opinions of the public

in a way to favor the goal. The practicality is sufficient in this case, as priming occurs in

media and politics daily. Each day news outlets and spokespeople are deciding what the

public should deem important and how they may go about the topics at hand. It is ever

present across the US, and in turn directly affects the people who may not even watch the

news or stay updated on current events.

Case study findings

Spiro Kiousis, “Job Approval and Favorability: The Impact of Media Attention to

the Monica Lewinsky Scandal on Public Opinion of President Bill Clinton.” 2013

January 19-November 1, 1998 (Election year)

This is the case in which looks at the era of the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky

scandal, news coverage of this affair dominated the press and media outlets. This study

looked at the arc of the impact of the scandal on the favorability of Bill Clinton as well as

the rating of his job approval. Essentially they looked at:

“media influence can be properly assessed only by (a) utilizing a longitudinal time-lagged

research design that is grounded in relevant mass communication and political science

concepts and theories, namely, priming and agenda-setting theories; and (b) examining

the impact of the media on two specific dimensions of public opinion--job performance

and personal assessment.”

-Political scandals are handled more “sensationally” than regular news, they create a

moral/value hype to bring more credence to the story.

-Sets up an attack on the character and integrity of those at center of claims, drives to

create public opinion that they are no longer creidble.

*-“...increased media coverage of social issues means that politicians would be

evaluated by the public based on their performance on those issues more than on

any other issues. As a result, priming theory enhances our understanding of how

news influence may operate during political scandals, such as the Monica Lewinsky


**Hypothesis: Media attention to the Monica Lewinsky scandal will be more strongly

correlated to perceived favorability than job approval.

(Scandals are related to favorability of the person, not the job they are doing.)

Used time and Economic factors as their controls

-“New York Times newspapers and ABC World News Tonight broadcasts was

performed to gauge media attention toward the Monica Lewinsky scandal”





Kiousis, S. (2003). Job Approval and Favorability: The Impact of Media Attention to the

Monica Lewinsky Scandal on Public Opinion of President Bill Clinton. Mass

Communication & Society, 6(4), 435-451.