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Image Bite PoliticsNews and the Visual Framing of Elections$

Maria Elizabeth Grabe and Erik Page Bucy

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195372076

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195372076.001.0001

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(p.289) Appendix 3 Visual Framing

(p.289) Appendix 3 Visual Framing

Image Bite Politics
Oxford University Press

Coding Instrument

Using the individual candidate as the unit of analysis, visual framing was assessed for each of the three character frames. The presence (value = 1) or absence (value = 0) of a visual category was coded for each candidate per news story and collapsed by news program to produce scores for each party per newscast. Several instances of a variable could be in play for a candidate within a single news story. Yet, only one instance of a given variable had to be present to be counted. Although this coding procedure does not assess the relative strength of a frame, it provides a conservative quantitative measure of the presence of frames within a story for each Democratic and Republican candidate. Coders were instructed to consider the foreground and backgrounds of televised scenes in which candidates appeared and to scrutinize shots adjacent to those of the candidate for associational juxtaposition.

The Ideal Candidate

The ideal candidate frame was measured as visual manifestations of statesmanship and compassion, using the following categories:


  1. 1. Elected officials and other influentials. Candidate appearances with elected officials or other influentials — people with power, status, and money, whether on the national or local level (p.290) (e.g., former presidents, high-ranking members of Congress, industry, or the media, but excluding military dignitaries).

  2. 2. Patriotic symbols. Visual portrayals of the candidate that include patriotic symbols, such as monuments and memorials, the American flag, statues, military machinery and parades, paintings or photos of patriots as well as appearances with living heroes such as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf.

  3. 3. Symbols of progress. Linkage to symbols of economic or technological progress, including Wall Street, National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), or high-technology manufacturing plants.

  4. 4. Identifiable entourage. Portrayal of an entourage, including security personnel, political aides, family, reporters, a motorcade, campaign caravan, or police vehicles.

  5. 5. Campaign paraphernalia. Clear visual representation of a candidate’s name on campaign memorabilia, such as posters, banners, buttons, signs, clothing, or even campaign transportation.

  6. 6. Political hoopla. Candidate appearances amidst raining confetti, streamers, or balloons.

  7. 7. Formal attire. Shots of the candidate wearing a suit, defined in its full range from a tuxedo and black-tie evening wear to a conventional business suit.

Categories for the compassion subdimension included four visual association variables and three behavioral display measures, as follows:


  1. 1. Children. Candidate appearances with children (interacting with, holding, or embracing).

  2. 2. Family associations. Visual connections to family members or historical family ties, affectionate displays with family members, or appearances with family.

  3. 3. Admiring women. Reaction shots or background footage of admiring women, expressing awe, wonder, excitement, or other signs of approval; also, enthusiastic female supporters shown smiling, cheering, or waving.

  4. 4. Religious symbols. Portrayals of candidates at places of worship, or among religious figures, or visual associations with religious symbols such as pulpits, crosses, candles, or religious scriptures.

The behavioral display measures used to represent compassion included the following:

  1. 5. Affinity gestures. Shots of candidates waving, fanning the crowd, giving the thumbs up or an informal salute, a “V” for (p.291) victory or peace sign, George W. Bush’s three-finger “W” sign, both arms raised upward or a fist pump skyward to reflect the crowd’s enthusiasm, a wink to someone in the audience or to the camera, tipping or waving one’s hat.1

  2. 6. Interaction with individuals. Portrayals of candidates engaging with supporters and giving individual attention to well-wishers, without physical contact.

  3. 7. Physical embraces. Hugging, shaking hands with, embracing, or even kissing supporters.

The Populist Campaigner

The candidate’s visual association with the plight of common people was coded in terms of mass appeal and ordinariness. In all, nine categories were used.

Mass Appeal

  1. 1. Celebrities. Shots of the candidate with celebrities, including movie stars, television personalities, musicians, rock stars, well-known athletes, and the like.

  2. 2. Large audiences. Shots of supporters tightly packed into a space or portrayals of the candidate appearing before a mass of supporters; also, aerial shots of mass attendance at rallies.

  3. 3. Approving audiences. Visual linkages to approving audiences shown applauding, waving, cheering, whistling, laughing, nodding in approval, wearing campaign paraphernalia, or toting campaign memorabilia.

  4. 4. Interaction with crowds. Shots of the candidate giving rapid, anonymous handshakes, grips, or touches to groups of supporters without individualized or fixed engagement with anyone in particular.


  1. 1. Informal attire. Shots of the candidate wearing a tie without a jacket, shirtsleeves rolled up.

  2. 2. Casual dress. Shots of the candidate in khaki pants, slacks, or jeans with a long- or short-sleeve shirt or sport coat, bomber jacket, jean jacket, sweater, windbreaker, or other casual garment.

  3. 3. Athletic clothing. Shots of the candidate in short pants, jogging gear, or other athletic gear.

  4. 4. Ordinary people. Visual linkages to common folk, including visits to disadvantaged communities or manufacturing plants.

  5. 5. Physical activity. Depictions of the candidate participating in common athletic activities or performing physical work, (p.292) including chopping wood, clearing brush, serving meals at a homeless shelter, hunting, or other outdoor activities.2

The Sure Loser

The sure loser frame was operationalized in terms of unflattering visual depictions, typically connected to behavioral variables.

  1. 1. Small crowds. Shots of the candidate appearing with only a few supporters in attendance, shown scattered around, in sparsely filled spaces, often with empty chairs.

  2. 2. Disapproving audiences. Shots of citizens jeering, booing, signaling thumbs down, holding posters with disapproving comments, protesting, frowning, nodding off, or showing other signs of disinterest and disapproval.

  3. 3. Displays of weakness. Shots of the candidate tripping, falling, stumbling, or otherwise displaying clumsiness or lack of coordination; also, portrayals of the candidate with an illness.

  4. 4. Defiant gestures. Shots of the candidate punching the air, pounding the podium, or pumping a fist; also, finger pointing or wagging and hand-wringing to suggest mutilation of the opponent.

  5. 5. Inappropriate nonverbal displays. Visual portrayals of the candidate exhibiting facial expressions, gestures, moods, or an overall bearing that is incongruent with the news story context (e.g., the candidate shown in an upbeat mood following news of a terrorist strike, or displaying a sad and somber demeanor after winning a debate and opening a big lead in the polls).

Coders and Reliability

Intercoder reliability was calculated using Krippendorff alpha; overall, reliability was high, Krippendorff’s alpha =. 92. Agreement across all 28 coding categories used in this analysis ranged from. 81 to 1.00.


(1) Coders were instructed to record affinity displays only if they appeared without physical contact, which was coded separately.

(2) Sports like yachting, golf, skiing, and windsurfing were excluded here because they suggest more elitist interests.