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Visual priming and framing of the 2016 GOP and Democratic Party presidential primary debates

  • Patrick A. Stewart (a1), Austin D. Eubanks (a2) and Jason Miller (a3)


In an on-demand media environment, the 2016 presidential primary debates provided a ratings and economic boost to host networks surpassing all prior primary debates and even major sporting events in viewership. In turn, millions of viewers were exposed to and subtly influenced by the ways in which these candidates were visually presented. We analyze how the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates were presented in their initial two debates (Fox News and CNN; CNN and CBS, respectively). Candidates are considered in terms of visual priming through aggregate camera time and average camera fixation time and how contenders were visually framed through the proportion of different camera shot types used (solo, split screen, side by side, multiple candidate, and audience reaction). Findings suggest that while the front-runners from both political parties benefited from preferential visual coverage, Donald Trump stood out in terms of the visual priming and framing that presented him as a serious contender.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence: Patrick A. Stewart, Department of Political Science 428 Old Main, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701. Email:


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