Four Applicable Communication Theories



According to the book, A First Look at Communication Theory, a textbook used in many collegiate communication theory classes, agenda-setting is a theory in which the media tell us: (1) what to think about, (2) how to think about it, and (3) what issues go together. We especially pay attention to the media agenda when issues are relevant and uncertain.


The media and politics are closely intertwined, so the media will report on what Congress is voting on and discussing in hearings, which means that  Congress in its own way sets an agenda for the media to follow. Messaging is one of the most significant parts of Congressional communication, and  messaging strategies and agenda-setting are an important part of influencing constituents.  


Cognitive Dissonance


According to A First Look, cognitive dissonance is defined as an aversive drive that causes people to (1) avoid opposing viewpoints, (2) seek reassurance after making a tough decision, and (3) change private beliefs to match public behavior when there is minimal justification for an action. 

Cognitive Dissonance occurs when two core beliefs, such as personal political philosophies, come into conflict with each other. For example, if a member believes in a limited role for the federal government but also supports legislation that creates specific federal guidelines on XYZ subject, the two beliefs conflict, resulting in cognitive dissonance. The dissonance caused by the conflicting beliefs (limited federal government and supporting federal standards for XYZ subject) must be resolved by seeking reassurance or changing private beliefs to match public behavior.


Impression Management


Impression management is a conscious or subconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object, or event by regulating and controlling information in social interaction, both in person and online.

Impression management is the most relevant theory related to constituent communication. Every member's social media accounts portrays them in a positive light and show facts as the member wants them to be presented. Members are attempting to influence constituents and the public and control information to portray themselves as positive, influential and important, even if the reality is more ambiguous. Manipulating the facts to create a positive narrative is one of the oldest maxims of politics, and it is not unethical to do so as long as the facts exist and can be referenced. 


Social Networks


Social network theory is different than social networks. Social network theory uses links and nodes to map out how we are all connected to each other. Social networks, including Twitter and Facebook, utilize this model by connecting people with other people they know to create social networks. Elected officials have a presence on social networks in order to connect with their constituents and update them on legislative debates and activities in the district. The connection between elected official and constituent is weak because they generally don't know each other on a personal level but the individual is interested in the activities and beliefs of the elected official. 

© 2019 Ted Dahlstrom - Gonzaga University COML Class of 2019

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