Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Communication Ecologies, Political Contention, and Democratic Crisis

The 2016 presidential campaign demonstrated the critical role mass media and social media play in American elections, driving themes and messages of campaigns and distributing information and misinformation to the electorate.

This project examines how growing polarization and fragmentation in the Wisconsin media ecology, as reflected in talk radio, local news, political advertising and social media, contributed to ideological and partisan political divides in the state. It will also study under what conditions the flow of information in the Wisconsin media ecology encourage citizens across the ideological spectrum to retrench into “echo chambers” that amplify highly partisan messages of party leaders and pundits within state politics.

The project research team, its students, and partners have gathered social media, public opinion, news coverage, and qualitative data on Wisconsin since 2010. The team has retrieved millions of tweets concerning Wisconsin politics, accessed 42 waves of Wisconsin surveys from the Marquette University Law School Poll, gathered news content from local newspapers and broadcast outlets, and conducted dozens of interviews with Wisconsin citizens, reporters, and political elites. The team will integrate these data with tracking of talk radio and political advertising content to create unified datasets that combine electoral messaging, news coverage, partisan media, social networking, and public opinion data to reconstruct the political and communication ecology of our state.

Principal Investigator

  • Lewis Friedland
    Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication

Co-Principal Investigators

  • Kathy Cramer
    Professor of Political Science
  • Karl Rohe
    Associate Professor of Statistics
  • William Sethares
    Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Dhavan Shah
    Maier-Bascom Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Michael Wagner
    Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Christopher Wells
    Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication