The Impact of McCain's Split Screen Personality
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
The chatter among pundits and journalists this post-debate morning has focused in part on John McCain's body language and split-screen demeanor. There was a clear aggressiveness and emotion to McCain's performance last night, much of it signaled not just when he was speaking, but also in split-screen reactions to Barack Obama's "eloquence."
Past research on split-screen effects in the 2004 election shows that viewer partisanship is likely to guide reactions to candidate demeanor, with Republicans seeing McCain's behavior as that of a strong leader justly outraged at Obama's attacks and sophistry, and Democrats and Independents likely turned off by the GOP nominee's manner.
Already, as a strategic tool, the Obama campaign has put together a TV ad (above) using McCain's body language and countenance against him, merging his split-screen personality with a narrative once again connecting McCain to the policies of President Bush. And on YouTube, popular music montages have appeared poking fun at McCain's debate reactions (below).
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