Mass Communication and Society Call for Papers

Media Theory and the 2016 U.S. Election

Guest Editor: Mike Schmierbach, Pennsylvania State University

Many aspects of the 2016 United States elections proved surprising for pundits and politicians alike. Most notable was the success of Donald Trump, a political novice, and polarizing figure who succeeded at topping a large primary field and pulling off the general election upset to become the 45th president of the United States. Alongside these events, broader debates over the civility of the candidates, the increasing polarization of the electorate, the role of social media and the rise of “alt-right” White nationalists all drew media attention.

Given this context, research on the topic has the potential to offer vital insights. Yet scholars should not assume the events of 2016 were unique or without roots in existing theories of political communication. Many of the issues raised in the most recent election are linked to thriving strands of theory and research. Voter cynicism and selective exposure are well-established phenomenon. Classic theories such as agenda setting, strategic framing, the spiral of silence and even the two-step flow of information may well help explain the choices potential voters made.

At the same time, the nature of mass media and their role in elections are changing, and scholarship must be updated to keep pace. The intersection of these two concerns – the long-standing theories that continue to be relevant to political communication scholars and the dramatic shifts in relevant variables – provide a vital opportunity for thoughtful scholarship.

Contributors are invited to submit to a special issue of Mass Communication and Society devoted to this intersection: a symposium on Media Theory and the 2016 U.S. Election. Submissions should draw upon data collected during the election or from studies explicitly designed in response to questions raised by the election. They should be strongly anchored in explicitly testing and advancing theories on the role of media in political processes. Submitters should be clear about the theoretical foundations driving their results and transparent about all data and analyses; null findings well-rooted in theory are valuable contributions and will receive equal treatment in the reviewing process. Studies should focus on theory advancement and explanatory contributions. Submissions that span a diversity of methodological approaches and theoretical perspectives are welcome. Evidence and data may come from such approaches as traditional and online surveys, in-depth interviewing, textual analysis, laboratory and field experiments, and other appropriate techniques. They may have been collected during the 2016 primary or general election, or after the election in a design meant to probe questions raised by the election. Potential topics include but are by no means limited to the relationship between any of the following and voter attitudes, engagement, knowledge, discussion and participation:

  • Selective exposure and homogeneity of information sources, including reliance on explicitly partisan media and social media outlets
  • Direct communication by politicians using Twitter and similar social media
  • Gatekeeping procedures and equality of coverage, given candidate tactics for drawing attention as well as creating scandals
  • Reliance on social media and online discussion as sources of campaign
  • Fact-checking and partisan resistance to corrective information and “mainstream” media outlets
  • Stereotyping and hostility toward minorities by candidates, campaigns and

Deadline for submissions: Manuscripts are to be submitted by November 1, 2017, via the Mass Communication and Society online system at following the standard journal submission procedures. Authors should note in their cover letters that the submission is for the special issue devoted to “Media Theory and the 2016 U.S. Election.”

Final publication will be in Volume 21 (2018). Any questions concerning this call for papers may be directed to Professor Mike Schmierbach,


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