Princeton University Library Catalog

ISSUES OF CONTENT AND RIGOR: A comparative analysis of debates, news programs, and talk shows in the 2016 election

Corbeil, Ciara [Browse]
Senior thesis
Tilghman, Shirley M. [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
Summary note:
Since its establishment in 1987, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has attempted to “benefit...the American electorate” by “ensur[ing] that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.”1 This thesis explores and compares the extent to which candidates’ appearances on CPD debates, news shows, political talk shows, and entertainment talks shows accomplish this important and ambitious mission of informing voters about those competing to be their commander in chief. To shed light on this question, I used quantitative content analysis techniques to code candidate television appearances from the 2016 general election for six types of content and three indicators of rigor. To my knowledge, no other researcher to date has conducted such an in-depth analysis of candidates’ television appearances in the 2016 general election. My results lead to three overarching conclusions. First, there are several clear differences between the information presented in a debate as compared to the other three types of candidate television appearances I studied. Second, debates share a surprising number of content similarities with news- and political talk show interviews, although debate content is clearly distinct in most regards from that of an entertainment talk show. Third, some speakers are more likely than others to provide certain types of content, regardless of what type of show they appear on. This last finding, in particular, has important implications for the health of the American electoral process.