University of Wisconsin–Madison

SJMC Political Communication Project Wins Additional Grant Support

After securing a prestigious UW2020 grant of $411,000 from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Discovery Initiative in May, SJMC professors Lew Freidland, Dhavan Shah and Mike Wagner have secured additional funding for their major research project, “Communication Ecologies, Political Contention, and Democratic Crisis.”

The research team, which also includes professors from the political science and statistics departments, was awarded an additional $150,000 from the Hewlett Foundation, $72,000 from UW’s Tommy Thompson Center on Public Leadership, and $50,000 from the Journal Foundation of Milwaukee. The funds will be used to support graduate students and cover costs for data collection.

The research explores the extreme polarization in Wisconsin political media.This project is the first to study every layer of a single state’s political communication ecology over an entire decade, 2000-2010; 47 waves statewide from the Badger and Marquette public opinion polls, traditional media, including six years of political coverage from 27 Wisconsin newspapers (400,000 plus articles), local tv news and talk radio; social media including 1 percent of global Twitter since 2015 (60 billion tweets); in-depth interviews and observational data from every part of the state; interviews with state political leaders from both major parties and others; and campaign advertising data from the Wesleyan media project. “No data set of this size and duration has ever been assembled,” Friedland said.

The team has already analyzed social media, including millions of tweets, and other qualitative data dating back to 2010 in order to examine the media polarization and distribution of both true and false information in Wisconsin elections.

Moving forward, they plan to look into “echo chambers” and citizens’ motivations to amplify partisan messages of party leaders. They will also integrate their qualitative findings with tracking of talk radio and political advertisements to reconstruct the future political and communication ecology of Wisconsin.