Analyzing Media Coverage of the U.S Election from Jamaica

For the first research paper you are required to analyze media coverage of the 2020 presidential election in a country other than the United States. For most of you I assume that the country will be English-speaking (Canada, the UK, Australia, etc.). French-speaking countries are fine too. After that my language proficiency runs out, but you may still do some other country in whose language you are fluent. You will, of course, have to provide English translations of any quotations and citations. You should start collecting material for this paper now. Remember, you will have to distill everything into a well-structured paper of about 2000 words (about 7 double-spaced, 12 pica pages), so it is important to get an early sense of how you will organize your analysis.

The particular focus and structure of your paper on foreign perceptions of the American presidential election is up to you to determine, as are the sources. For those who may want a bit more guidance, here are some ideas.

Perceptions of American politics in any particular society are always anchored, to some degree, to the historical and contemporary relationship that the society in question has with the United States. Mexican perceptions, for example, continue to be influenced by the long and often antagonistic relationship between the two countries, an antagonism and tradition of anti-Americanism that goes back to the mid-19th century. This sort of background is usually worth keeping in mind.

Some countries, including their opinion leaders, are more likely than others to have divided views on America. It has been fairly common over the years that in some countries mass opinion has been more favorable toward the United States than elite opinion. In some countries the opinion-shaping classes are divided in their perspectives on America. So, for example, in talking about the Canadian media’s coverage of the American presidential election and the Canadian public’s views on that election, it might be worth making clear whether such divisions exist and, if so, what their nature is. To use a different example, it is well documented that those who hold more right wing populist views in Europe are more likely than those who don’t to support President Trump. Why? Divisions like these in a society are worth identifying and explaining.

Some important matters came up in the calls this morning and so I’d thought I’d provide a bit more guidance related to the first research paper on foreign perceptions of the US presidential election.

First of all, this is a paper on perceptions. These may be accurate or not. But they are very likely to exist within and to have been influenced by a longer standing relationship between a particular country and the United States.

Second, traditional media are of course still very important, but so too are social media in the creation and circulation of ideas, images and information about the United States. Influential bloggers, tweeters with substantial followings, and others whose influence is mainly or exclusively through social media are important opinion leaders in today’s world. I would simply say that in relying on such sources that you use the same sort of judgment that you would use in deciding what to use from traditional media. A blogger who specializes in rants and has 100 followers is probably not a source that you want to rely upon. But anyone or any organization that represents what you determine to believe is a significant element within the society that you are examining is much more likely to be the sort of source that could be relevant for this paper.

Third, you will find as you collect information about what is said, written and otherwise diffused about the presidential election that there are various ways of structuring and thinking about the material that you collect. There is the content of the material (statements that are presented as factual or interpretations of actions, motivations, etc.) and then there are sentiments or what might be called the affective component of commentary and interpretations of the campaign, the candidates and so on. Content and affect are not entirely separable, but it can sometimes be a useful way of thinking about perceptions.

Fourth, most national populations have long displayed ambivalence toward the United States, its policies, culture, actions abroad and so on. This ambivalence may or may not be reflected in the material that you come across, and is less likely to be found in those countries where state control of the media is tight.

Fifth, and related in a way to the previous point, opinion leaders in a country are not always on the same page when it comes to the United States. To give an example, while the preponderance of commentary on President Trump in such countries as Germany, France, Spain or even Canada is negative, Trump has his defenders (well, maybe not in France). Israel, Poland, the UK and Canada, just to give some examples, are places where elite and public opinion on Trump and what he is believed to represent is divided. I didn’t say divided equally, just divided.


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