Comparing Political Communication

Authored by: Barbara Pfetsch , Frank Esser

Handbook of Comparative Communication Research

Print publication date:  April  2012
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415802710
eBook ISBN: 9780203149102
Adobe ISBN: 9781136514241

10.4324/9780203149102.ch2

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Abstract

It is hard to underestimate the role of communication in politics as “political life in any mass society is impossible without established methods of political communication” (Pye, 1937, p. 443). It is also self-evident that varying settings of political communication systems affect mass political behavior and the working of democracy differently. However, political communication systems are highly differentiated in themselves and conditional on contextual influences. Thus, the more we compare the various aspects of political communication, the more complex our view on political life becomes. Findings from comparative political communication research often reflect this complexity, and they can rarely be reduced to a simple denominator. At the same time comparisons often unveil contradictions and dilemmas of the communication of politics, which makes it hard to produce a smooth synthesis of comparative political communication research. In this chapter we aim to do three things. First, we discuss the implications of political communication and its relevance for democratic governance. This reflection is designed to demonstrate the usefulness of the comparative approach in this field. Second, we introduce a heuristic model of the political communication system that allows us to identify and contextualize the relevant dimensions, actors, and message flows. This model shall help us to lay out some of the important trajectories of comparative research and lines of scholarly debate. In particular, we scrutinize (a) structures, (b) cultures, (c) messages, and (d) effects in the comparative study of political communication research. Third, we close the chapter with a reflection of current challenges and future perspectives. Some of them are rooted in the general limits of comparative social research; others stem from changes in the wake of globalization and digitalization of political communication. They threaten not only the boundaries of the nation-state and the way the media interfere with democratic governance but also our search for meaningful concepts for understanding political communication.

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