Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Election Perceptions 2, a hunch: Does a major new form of rising media always encourage presidential voting?

March 9, 2012, 7:19 a.m., Posted by Eric Newton



Today’s post is the second of three looking at the media and elections. It is a wild hunch that our great political scientists will not agree with – still, I think it needs study from journalism and mass communications scholars.

Take a look at the graphic. From George Mason University, via Wikipedia, it shows presidential election turnout in the United States for the past two centuries.  

There are four interesting upward spikes in U.S. election turnout: 1820s-1850s, which just so happens to coincide with the rise of the mass circulation newspaper;  1920s-1940s; which matches the rise of radio; 1950s-1960s, during the time of the rise of television, and from the mid-1990s to today, which coincides with the rise of the World Wide Web and digital media.

Drawing upon my years co-creating the Newseum, the international news and freedom museum in Washington, D.C., I would also throw in a couple of 19th century mini-spikes. After American magazines rose just before the Civil War and after the rise of big city papers before the turn of the century, there were also presidential voting spikes.

So I repeat:  The historic upticks in American presidential voting happen to match the rise of new forms of mass media.

Is this just a coincidence? I don’t think so. But don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that the rise of novel forms of popular media caused the spikes. I am theorizing that the rise of media is an ingredient in a complex recipe that in the end results in more presidential voting. In fact, the same underlying social conditions that caused the rise of the new forms of media might also be the things that caused the rise of presidential voting.

#FreeToTweet set to announce competition winners

March 9, 2012, 6:33 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller



In just one week, 22 high school and college students will be named the winners of the 1ForAll campaign’s #FreetoTweet competition - and receive $5,000 to continue their education.

More than 17,000 tweets with the #FreetoTweet hashtag flooded Twitter on Dec. 15, sent by people sharing how they enjoy their right to free expression.

Students ages 14 to 22 who creatively tweeted their appreciation for the First Amendment using the hashtag were automatically entered into a nationwide scholarship competition.

Knight Foundation funded the 22 scholarships - one for every decade since the Bill of Rights’ ratification.