Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Diana C. Mutz
I explore how the tone of media coverage affects opinions of foreign countries by
studying a particular case: the People’s Republic of China. I exploit the fact that recent
presidential campaigns have focused a great deal of attention on China. Indeed, before
the 2012 presidential election, media coverage of China was particularly high and largely negative due to campaign rhetoric about how China was stealing American jobs and ruining the U.S. economy.
Using a nationally representative, pre- and post- election panel, I explore how
these changes in media valence affect opinions of China. I use an original content
analysis of mentions of China on U.S. political television to examine whether changes in
the way the country is depicted in the media lead individuals to change their opinions of
it. Results indicate that media valence does affect opinion; the increase in negatively-valenced coverage of China in advance of the U.S. presidential election increased the
degree to which individuals perceived China to be a threat. I also find that an increase in
positively-valenced coverage of China increases perceived threat from China.
I also use an original survey experiment to offer causal evidence that negativelyvalenced
media about foreign countries negatively affects opinions toward those
countries—and their citizens. Here, I focus on political advertisements, examining
whether exposure to presidential ads, aired as part of the 2012 campaign, cause
individuals to have more unfavorable opinions of both China and Chinese people.
I also test whether these ads cause people to discriminate against Chinese citizens and Asians, more generally. Results indicate that negatively-valenced media about a country causes people to perceive it as more threatening and to view it—and the people dwelling in it—less favorably. I also find that it causes people to discriminate against Chinese and Asians on an individual level (rather than broadly as a group), evaluating Chinese and Asian college applicants less positively.
These studies highlight the power that media can have on American opinion of
foreign countries and show how negatively-valenced media used during the course of
ordinary campaigning can affect discrimination and Sino-U.S. relations.
Silver, Laura Ruth, "China in the Media: Effects on American Opinion" (2016). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 2017.