Here are a few facts Kathleen Hall Jamieson thinks you don't know about politics: most presidents try to keep their campaign promises, most candidate ads tell the truth, campaign rhetoric has not become more negative in recent years, reporters don't represent the content of candidate speeches very well, and attack ads don't depress voter turnout. There's more, but the point is clear: the conventional wisdom about politics is often wrong. Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania dean and frequent guest on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
, is determined to set the record straight.
Everything You Think You Know About Politics... and Why You're Wrong is messy and disjointed, but in a thoroughly enjoyable way. It's essentially a collection of essays--more than two dozen of them--on narrow-focus topics such as whether local TV or local newspapers do a better job of covering politics, the value of candidate debates, and press bias. Jamieson sometimes shares authorship credits on chapters, and most essays are marked by her determination to confound expectations. Not every chapter will interest every reader, but political junkies will find plenty of material worth perusing on these pages. Sometimes Jamieson's claims are provocative: "The gender gap in political knowledge is real.... Men answer more questions about candidate positions correctly than do women." She also argues strenuously in favor of media soundbites--they really do communicate political information effectively, she believes. Readers who intend to keep pace with the twists and turns of the 2000 election season will do well to thumb through this book: it's written with them especially in mind. Everything You Think You Know About Politics... will boost knowledge about how politics works and why campaigns and the media behave as they do--as well as increase readers' pleasure in observing the whole process. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Although the title overstates her case, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and savvy political commentator Jamieson (Dirty Politics, etc.) challenges much of the assumed wisdom about presidential elections. It is, she writes, a "widely held belief that politics in the United States is broken: [that] soundbites are worthless..., politicians don't keep their promises [and] campaigns are increasingly negative." This is not trueDat least, not according to her data. Based on the results of the Annenberg Campaign Mapping ProjectDa collaborative research project that examined the character of every presidential campaign since 1952 and took 10 years to completeDthe book is at once scholarly and practical. Sprinkled with explanatory sidebar tidbits, cartoons and graphs, it conveys a tremendous wealth of information in an easily digestible format. Narrowly focused chapters deal with each faulty assumption one by one (several chapters are barely two or three pages); other chaptersDincluding the one about how local TV crime coverage feeds irrational racial fearsDare remarkably in-depth and subtle. The author argues that, contrary to what the pundits say, candidate debates are informative and useful; that most presidents try to keep their campaign promises; and that campaigning hasn't gotten more attack-based over time. Although it offers no discussion of the possibility that presidential campaigning might be broken in ways other than those examined here, Jamieson's thorough and persuasive book promises to add perspective to our sense of presidential campaigning when we need it most. This is essential reading for political junkies. (July)
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