Skip to main content

The New Videomalaise: Effects of Televised Incivility on Political Trust

  • DIANA C. MUTZ (a1) and BYRON REEVES (a2)

Does incivility in political discourse have adverse effects on public regard for politics? If so, why? In this study we present a theory suggesting that when viewers are exposed to televised political disagreement, it often violates well-established face-to-face social norms for the polite expression of opposing views. As a result, incivility in public discourse adversely affects trust in government. Drawing on three laboratory experiments, we find that televised presentations of political differences of opinion do not, in and of themselves, harm attitudes toward politics and politicians. However, political trust is adversely affected by levels of incivility in these exchanges. Our findings suggest that the format of much political television effectively promotes viewer interest, but at the expense of political trust.

Corresponding author
Diana C. Mutz is Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Political Science and Communication, University of Pennsylvania, 248 Stiteler Hall, 208 S. 37th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215 (
Byron Reeves is Paul C. Edwards Professor of Communication, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
Hide All
Aiello John R. 1987. “Human Spatial Behavior.” In Handbook of Environmental Psychology, Vol. 1, ed. Irwin Altman and Daniel Stokols. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 389504.
Altschuler Glenn C., and Stuart M. Blumin. 2000. Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Barber Benjamin. 1983. The Logic and Limits of Trust. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Bradley Margaret. 2000. “Emotion and Motivation.” In Handbook of Psychophysiology, ed. John Cacioppo, Louis Tassinary, and Gary Berntson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 60242.
Brown Penelope, and Stephen C. Levinson. 1987. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Cappella Joseph N., and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. 1997. Spiral of Cynicism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Citrin Jack, and Christopher Muste. 1999. “Trust in Government.” In Measure of Political Attitudes, ed. John P. Robinson, Phillip R. Shaver, and Lawrence S. Wrightsman. New York: Academic Press, 465532.
Dawson Michael E., Anne M. Schell, and Diane L. Filion. 2000. “The Electrodermal System.” In Handbook of Psychophysiology, 2nd ed., ed. John T. Cacioppo, Louis G. Tassinary, and Gary G. Berntson. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Druckman James. 2003. “The Power of Television Images: The First Kennedy–Nixon Debate Revisited.” Journal of Politics 65 (May): 55971.
Druckman James, and Kjersten R. Nelson. 2003. “Framing and Deliberation: How Citizens' Conversations Limit Elite Influence.” American Journal of Political Science 47: 72945.
Durr Robert H., John B. Gilmour, and Christina Wolbrecht. 1997. “Explaining Congressional Approval.” American Journal of Political Science 41 (January): 175207.
Elving Ronald D. 1994. “Brighter Lights, Wider Windows: Presenting Congress in the 1990s.” In Congress, the Press, and the Public, ed. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute and The Brookings Institution.
Fallows James. 1996. Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. New York: Pantheon.
Funk Carolyn L. 2001. “Process Performance: Public Reaction to Legislative Policy Debate.” In What Is It About Government That Americans Dislike? ed. John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Goldstein Susan. 1999. “Construction and Validation of a Conflict Communication Scale.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 29 (September): 180332.
Gould Jack. [1952] 1972. “The X of the Campaign: TV Personality.” New York Times Magazine, June 22. In The Mass Media and Politics, ed. James F. Fixx. New York: Arno Press.
Hart Roderick P. 1994. Seducing America: How Television Charms the Modern Voter. New York: Oxford.
Hetherington Marc J. 1998. “The Political Relevance of Political Trust.” American Political Science Review 92 (December): 791808.
Hetherington Marc J. 1999. “The Effect of Political Trust on the Presidential Vote, 1968–96.” American Political Science Review 93 (June): 31126.
Hibbing John R., and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. 1995. Congress as Public Enemy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hibbing John R., and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. 1998. “The Media's Role in Public Negativity Toward Congress: Distinguishing Emotional Reactions and Cognitive Evaluations.” American Journal of Political Science 42 (April): 47598.
Hibbing John R., and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. 2002. Stealth Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Holtz-Bacha Christina. 1990. “Videomalaise Revisited: Media Exposure and Political Alienation in West Germany.” European Journal of Communication 5 (March): 7385.
Keeter Scott. 1987. “The Illusion of Intimacy: Television and the Role of Candidate Personal Qualities in Voter Choice.” Public Opinion Quarterly 51 (Autumn): 34458.
Kennedy Randall. 1998. “The Case Against Civility.” The American Prospect 9 (November): 84.
Kingwell Mark. 1995. A Civil Tongue: Justice, Dialogue and the Politics of Pluralism. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Lang Annie. 2000. “The Limited Capacity Model of Mediated Message Processing.” Journal of Communication 50 (March): 4670.
Lippmann Walter. 1925. The Phantom Public. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Lombard Matthew. 1995. “Direct Responses to People on the Screen: Television and Personal Space.” Communication Research 22 (June): 288324.
Lombard Matthew, Robert D. Reich, Maria E. Grabe, Cheryl C. Bracken, and Theresa B. Ditton. 2000. “Presence and Television: The Role of Screen Size.” Human Communication Research 26 (January): 7598.
Mansbridge Jane J. 1983. Beyond Adversary Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Marcus George E., W. Russell Neuman, and Michael MacKuen. 2000. Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McGraw Kathleen, Elaine Willey, and William Anderson. 1999. “It's the Process Stupid!? Procedural Considerations in Evaluations of Congress.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.
McHugo G. J., J. T. Lanzetta, D. G. Sullivan, R. D. Masters, and B. G. Englis 1985. “Emotional Reactions to a Political Leader's Expressive Displays.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 49 (December): 151329.
Miller Arthur H., Edie N. Goldenberg, and Lutz Erbring. 1979. “Typeset Politics: Impact of Newspapers on Public Confidence.” American Political Science Review 73 (March): 6784.
O'Reilly Bill. 2001. The No-Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America. New York: Broadway.
Patterson Thomas E. 1993. Out of Order. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Price Vincent, and John Zaller. 1993. “Who Gets the News? Alternative Measures of News Reception and Their Implications for Research.” Public Opinion Quarterly 57 (Summer): 13364.
Ranney Austin. 1983. Channels of Power: The Impact of Television on American Politics. New York: Basic Books.
Reeves Byron and Clifford Nass. 1996. The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers,Television and New Media Like Real People and Places. New York: Cambridge University Press. Reeves Byron, Annie Lang, Eun-Young Kim, and Deborah Tatar. 1999. “The Effects of Screen Size and Message Content on Arousal and Attention.” Media Psychology 1: 49–67.
Robinson Michael J. 1975. “American Political Legitimacy in an Era of Electronic Journalism: Reflections on the Evening News.” In Television as a Social Force: New Approaches to TV Criticism, ed. Douglass Cater and Richard Adler. New York: Praeger.
Robinson Michael J., and Kevin R. Appel. 1979. “Network News Coverage of Congress.” Political Science Quarterly 94 (Autumn): 40718.
Rodin Judith. 1996. “An Urgent Task.” Keynote Address: Penn National Commission on Society, Culture and Community. December 9.
Sapiro Virginia. 1999. “Considering Political Civility Historically: A Case Study of the United States.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Political Psychology, Amsterdam.
Schiffenbauer Allen, and R. Steven Schiavo. 1976. “Physical Distance and Attraction: An Intensification Effect.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 12 (May): 27482.
Sigelman Lee, and David Bullock. 1991. “Candidates, Issues, Horse Races and Hoopla: Presidential Campaign Coverage, 1888–1988.” American Politics Quarterly 19 (January): 532.
Storms M. D., and G. C. Thomas. 1977. “Reactions to Physical Closeness.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 35: 41228.
Sullivan Denis G., and Roger D. Masters. 1987. “‘Gut Reactions’ and the Political Effects of the Media.” PS: Political Science and Politics 20 (December): 88089.
Tannen Deborah. 1998. The Argument Culture. New York: Random House.
Tyler Tom R. 1990. Why People Obey the Law. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Uslaner Eric M. 1993. The Decline of Comity in Congress. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 12
Total number of PDF views: 400 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 750 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 14th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.