"You are no Jack Kennedy": On Media Selection of Highlights from Presidential Debates

Chenhao Tan, Hao Peng, and Noah A. Smith.
In Proceedings of The Web Conference (WWW'2018).

Political speeches and debates play an important role in shaping the images of politicians, and the public often relies on media outlets to select bits of political communication from a large pool of utterances. It is an important research question to understand what factors impact this selection process.

To quantitatively explore the selection process, we build a three- decade dataset of presidential debate transcripts and post-debate coverage. We first examine the effect of wording and propose a binary classification framework that controls for both the speaker and the debate situation. We find that crowdworkers can only achieve an accuracy of 60% in this task, indicating that media choices are not entirely obvious. Our classifiers outperform crowdworkers on average, mainly in primary debates. We also compare important factors from crowdworkers' free-form explanations with those from data-driven methods and find interesting differences. Few crowdworkers mentioned that "context matters", whereas our data show that well-quoted sentences are more distinct from the previous utterance by the same speaker than less-quoted sentences. Finally, we examine the aggregate effect of media preferences towards different wordings to understand the extent of fragmentation among media outlets. By analyzing a bipartite graph built from quoting behavior in our data, we observe a decreasing trend in bipartisan coverage.

[PDF][Supplementary material][Data(README)][Slides]

similarity with turns.

     author = {Chenhao Tan and Hao Peng and Noah A. Smith},
     title = {``You are no Jack Kennedy'': On Media Selection of Highlights from Presidential Debates},
     year = {2018},
     booktitle = {Proceedings of WWW}