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OHIO Expert

William Benoit, Ph.D.

School of Communication Studies
Scripps College of Communication


Dr. William Benoit, an expert on political communication, studies campaign messaging in all forms to determine whether positive or negative communication is more effective.

Researching political races from 1952-2012, Benoit and his co-authors determined several themes that many may find surprising, given the perception of most political campaigns:

  • Candidates actually have more positive statements in advertisements and debates than negative remarks.
  • Candidates talk more about policy than character.

On the flip side of that, Benoit says a look at the media coverage of the same time period paints a very different picture:

  • Even though candidates have more positive messages, the news media reports more of the negative than positive.
  • The media focuses on the "horse race" first, then character, and last policy.
  • News coverage does not emphasize policy as much as the candidates do.

These trends are fairly universal, Benoit says, affecting elections from gubernatorial races to the White House. Ironically, he adds, public surveys show that voters said policy or the current issues, not character, determined how they vote, despite how the candidates may have been portrayed in the media.

"Candidate sponsored ads as a group are persuasive and sometimes they do sway voters, reinforcing and changing attitudes and sometimes helping voters make up their minds," Benoit said. "But it would seem that the candidate who talks more about policy may be more likely to win."

In addition to his research surrounding political messaging, Benoit is an expert scholar on image repair, authoring papers on such recent high profile news stories involving AIG's chief executive officer during the buy-out scandal and the firing of National Public Radio's Juan Williams for public comments he made regarding Muslims.

One of the most published scholars in the School of Communication Studies, Benoit has appeared in numerous peer-reviews journals, including Communication Monographs, Journal of Communication, Business Communication Quarterly and Political Science Quarterly.

Benoit's Media Placements include:

  • ABC News
  • Tampa Tribune
  • MSN Money
  • Boston Globe
  • Atlanta Journal Constitution
  • CBS News
  • U.S. News & World Report
  • Detroit News
  • Times-Picayune
  • The Republican
  • Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • Las Vegas Sun
  • Boston Herald
  • Kansas City Star
  • USA Today
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer

Theory of Campaign Messages

Areas of Expertise

Advertising, Communication, Debate, Elections, Image Repair, Messaging, Political Advertising, Political Campaigns, Political Communication, Politics

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