Threat messages in partisan media and job performance approval under President Obama




Villarreal, Kate S.

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When President Obama took office in January 2009, he entered a climate of support that reflected the bipartisan and ethnically diverse coalition who elected him. By April, a partisan gap in approval emerged that rivaled that of his predecessor. As presidential approval among Independents and Conservatives dropped over the course of 2009, so did support among White Americans as a group, while support among American racial minorities remained strong. This paper investigates why job approval of President Obama became so immediately polarized among the U.S. electorate in 2009, in terms of both political ideology and race/ethnicity. It is predicted that messages from the Right-leaning media information environment may have played a role in the decline in support for President Obama among target groups. Drawing from political communication and political psychology literature, FOX News coverage from 2009 was examined through content analysis for messages that describe the president as a threatening figure, including the use of racial appeals. Results showed a strong presence of threat messages, including the use of highly polarizing partisan rhetoric, and subtle racial characterizations of the president as being "Other" than American. The U.S. economy is also examined during this timeframe, as both an alternative and related explanation for the trends in support.


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Media, Obama, Partisan, Polarization, Race, Threat



Political Science and Geography