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Surfing and Sliding:  Media in Elections
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Kate Kenski, Bruce W Hardy and Kathleen Hall Jamieson
The Obama Victory:  How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election
(Oxford/NY:  Oxford University Press, 2010.  378p.)

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This is a technical book that probes the specific patterns and streams of influence in the 2008 US Presidential Election Campaign.  The authors analyze specific campaign strategies and media campaigns in regard to polls and ultimate votes, buy all the demographic categories available.

This team is thorough.  They have stinted no effort and cut no corners to draw together this picture.  One could get bogged down in this book, due to the fascinating and masterful presentation and control of the details.  The charts and numbers, complicated by the multiple demographic categories, will deter or discouraged some readers who might otherwise be interested in the streams and themes of the Obama-McCain campaign.

But the charts and graphs, while helpful to visualize that patterns and waves of influence and change through the months of the election campaign, can easily be passed over without impeding the value of the text.

Media Power
These three authors make a seamless team to weave a complex tapestry of the forces and floods of media by both parties.  It does get tedious, but you can make progress by taking advantage of the many and frequent headings and sub-headings guiding the reader through the 314p text.  Additional careful documentation is included, adding a section of endnotes that provide further context and sourcing documentation.

The upshot of this careful study is that the way media was used and the amount of media exposure was indeed a major factor affecting the attitude and inclination of voters in every segment.  The authors provide clear explanations of what demographic groups were most swayed by what kinds of themes or what type of media.

The analyses determine that media shape expectations and set standards of evaluation of candidates.  Many readers might be especially interested in this book's analysis of the debates between the candidates.  This is a notable inclusion here that often is ignored in demographic analysis.

One aspect that won't surprise the observant reader is the key role of lies (to be blunt about it), otherwise referred to as deception or falsehood, used by both candidate teams and parties in their ads.  Positions were twisted, statement or claims were pulled out of context to conclude something unrelated and claim this was what the candidate believed or said.

One interesting aspect they report on is the viral campaigns. Emails that were circulated in the millions with made-up stories, lies of various kinds, to raise emotional opposition or create dislike for one candidate or other. I see these coming into my box all the time, and do not have the time to research and debunk each of them.

America's Viral Epidemic
Even after these false stories are debunked and reported on responsible sites like Snopes or journalism sites, people still send these out in the droves, without checking them.  These usually have a strident tone, and aim to raise fear through their false charges or lying claims.

This type of media was furiously active in the last presidential campaign, especially against Mr Obama.  And they continue.  Kenski and group document specific instances of this and analyze the effect of these electronic viruses on the election.

Sarah's Slide
It was interesting to see the role of media in regard to perceptions of Governor Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee.  There were high doubts among the broad public about her competence and readiness for such an office, and confidence fell as the campaign progressed.

Key events in her downward momentum were the Katie Couric interview and the Saturday Night Live parody of it by Tina Fey, even though the governor herself made an appearance on SNL and participated with Fey and others in political satire.  The negative perception of Palin was seemingly the greatest factor that drug down the McCain ticket.

Joe Biden had a similar negative effect on the Democrats with his thoughtless gaffes, but the effect was minimal and overweighed by other positive advantages the authors explain.

Another important factor was the amount of media, determined by the funding available.  The Obama campaign refused to accept government funding and was able to raise an extensive funding base, outspending McCain by more than McCain received from the government for his campaign.

If you are serious about understanding how campaigns work, and how media of all kinds are used in the Presidential campaigns, read this book.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Losing the Way in the Permanent Campaign
[review] Obama:  Keeping Him Accountable

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Review posted on Amazon 14 August 2010
This version posted on Thoughts and Resources 15 August 2010
Last edited 4 July 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright 2010 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email: orville@jenkins.nu
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