Moving Pictures? Experimental Evidence of Cinematic Influence on Political Attitudes

Authors

  • Todd Adkins,

    1. University of Notre Dame
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  • Jeremiah J. Castle

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Notre Dame
    • Direct correspondence to Jeremiah J. Castle, Graduate Student, Political Science Department, University of Notre Dame, 217 O'Shaughnessy Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556 〈jcastle1@nd.edu〉. Contact Jeremiah J. Castle for questions concerning the article or study. Jeremiah J. Castle will share the data and coding for replication purposes. Todd Adkins is a PhD Candidate, Political Science Department, University of Notre Dame, 217 O'Shaughnessy Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556 〈tadkins@nd.edu〉.

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  • The authors would like to thank David Nickerson for his invaluable counsel in setting up our experiment and associated protocols, Geoff Layman, Carl Palmer, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on earlier drafts, and all the graduate students at Notre Dame who helped with the administration of the experiment. Finally, we thank the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame for funding support that made this possible.

Abstract

Objectives

Media effects research has generally ignored the possibility that popular films can affect political attitudes. This omission is puzzling for two reasons. First, research on public opinion finds the potential for persuasion is highest when respondents are unaware that political messages are being communicated. Second, multiple studies have found that entertainment media can alter public opinion. Together, this suggests that popular films containing political messages should possess the potential to influence attitudes.

Methods

We develop a laboratory experiment where subjects were randomly assigned to watch a control movie with no political messages, a movie with subtle political messages, or a movie with strong and explicit political messages.

Results

We find that popular movies possess the ability to change political attitudes, especially on issues that are unframed by the media. Furthermore, we show such influence persists over time and is not moderated by partisanship, ideology, or political knowledge.

Conclusions

Our key findings suggest that a renewed scholarly interest in the political influence of popular movies is clearly warranted.

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