Affective Priming

Short Essay:
Please explain the idea of affective priming. What is its possible role in elections? Compare this concept with the framing effect.
Political Communication in Israel

Affective priming deals with the way people make judgments of their political leaders (and others) based on the issues that get prominent news coverage. Price and Tewksbury note that originally priming effects were studied in the realm of agenda setting. However, they also note that whereas agenda setting can affect what the audience find important, priming studies can “also affects public evaluations of political leaders. For example, at any particular point in time people may tend to evaluate the performance of the president based on those issues (e.g., the economy or foreign affairs) recently featured most prominently in the media.” [1] It seems that the reason this works is because people tend “to be miserly in expending cognitive effort when processing political information. Most use cognitive shortcuts and heuristics.” [2] People base their overall opinion of a political leader’s success simply on their actions/policies/activities in one area.
Sheafer takes it a little bit further by noting that once issues or events have been primed, people place an “affective attribute” on it. This is an evaluation of the issue at hand, which cannot be separated from the initial priming, thus rendering it affective priming. He says, “The media influence affective priming through the affective compelling arguments effect, in which they attach an evaluative tone (i.e., positive, negative or neutral) to objects or issues. In other words, the media help people in assigning attribute to these issues.” [3] This seems to give the media a powerful tool midway between the framing effect and simple priming.
The framing effect refers to the way that the media can determine how the object or issue is to be presented. Framing presents a way that journalists and the audience alike can respectively represent and comprehend the issues at hand. [4] The way journalists frame an issue is essentially assigning to it an affective attribution, be that negative, positive or neutral. “Framing focuses not on which topics or issues are selected for coverage by the news media, but instead on the particular ways those issues are presented, on the ways public problems are formulated for the media audience.” [5]
Affective priming can thus be a formidable tool to be used by the media to affect politics, especially in the context of elections. By recognizing which party “owns” which issue and affectively priming accordingly, a media outlet can perhaps influence the electoral process because “such affective attributes have political consequences, probably mainly through the process of voters’ attribution of responsibility to the incumbent party.” [6] Similarly, the theory “behind agenda setting and priming is the idea that story selection affects audience evaluations by influencing the likelihood that some issues rather than others will come to mind, thus affecting audience judgments of issue importance or approval of public actors.” [7] Thus, a media outlet can attempt to sway public opinion and judgment of a public figure or party. This could be fairly (or possibly even extremely) effective during a close election.

[1]Price, V. & Tewksbury, D. (1997). “New Values and Public Opinion: A Theoretical account of media priming and framing.” In Barnett, G. A. & Boster, F. J. (Eds.), Progress in Communication Sciences: Advances in Persuasion, Vol. 13. Connecticut and London: Abelx Publishing Corp. 181.
[3]Sheafer, T. (2007). “How to Evaluate it: the Role of Story Evaluative Tone in Agenda Setting and Priming.” Journal of communication, 57 (1), 21-39.
[4]See Scheufele, D. A. (1999). “Framing as a Theory of Media Effects.” Journal of Communication, 49(1), 103-122.
[5]Price and Tewksbury, “New Values,” 184.
[6]Sheafer, “Evaluate,” 26.
[7]Price and Tewksbury, “New Values,” 184.