On Message
Pippa Norris Books



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On Message:

Communicating the campaign

Pippa Norris, John Curtice, David Sanders, Margaret Scammell, and Holli Semetko

Book published 1999 Sage 240 pages Cloth(0-7619-6073-2) Price 47.50 Paper (0-7619-6074-0) Price 15.99  


On Message brings together a group of leading scholars to provide a comprehensive and original analysis of the role and impact of political communications during election campaigns.

Part 1 sets out the theoretical framework, the context of election campaigning in Britain, and the methodology for understanding media effects.

Part 2 reviews party strategies and media coverage during the official campaign and monitors the audience reaction.

Part 3 draws together evidence of the overall impact of the 1997 British General Election campaign and analyzes how far television and the press media influenced the public's civic engagement, agenda priorities, and party preferences.

Drawing upon a triangulated research design, combining the BES panel survey, content analysis and experiments, this book transcends traditional models of media 'effects' to provide new and original insights into the dynamics of modern election campaigns and voting behaviour.

It is essential reading for all researchers, practitioners and students of political communications, elections and voting behaviour, in Britain and elsewhere.


"Did the Sun win the 1997 election for Labour, this making a slightly queasy indebtedness to Rupert Murdoch a small and necessary price to pay for government? Or would Labour have won without the tabloid support? Academics and politicians tend to see the question of the impact of the media on political results in starkly different terms. On the one hand academics have a great deal of proof that voting decisions happen in complex, variable and long term frameworks. On the other hand, politicians tend to believe that elections do, really, matter. That you can win election campaigns and that you can lose them too, and that the media are increasingly central to what happens. This excellent study is invaluable because it puts a more fluid political reality back into an imaginative empirical study of the relationship between campaigning and results.

Distinguishing between the 'long' (over a year) and the 'short' (the campaign) elections the book overturns much conventional thinking about 1997. Over the long campaign, Labour actually lost support, while the Liberal Democrats gained it (but Labour was stunningly successful in attracting ex-Tory votes). Despite the best frantic efforts of Millbank the election machine failed to control media news agendas about things they did not care about - like Europe. 

Central to the book's findings, however, is a result which is really a recommendation. The study argues that neither the amount of media attention, nor the media agenda balance have much independent effect on voters, but that what they call the 'direction' of coverage does. The direction of coverage - that is to say whether a party is depicted in a favourable or an unfavourable light in the media - has a powerful impact on elections. There is a suggestion that this is what needs regulation. Well, yes. Except that in part that is what the media are there to do, not merely reflect but judge. This is an interesting book that authoritatively sets off on a convincing and intriguing new agenda. But no wonder Millbank tried so hard." Jean Seaton, University of Westminster, Political Studies 48(4): September 2000. Readership: undergraduate, graduate. Rating ***** 

"On Message is the most innovative and comprehensive study of the effects of communications on British voting. It is the definitive guide to the new trends in campaign voting and the media." Dennis Kavanagh, University of Liverpool

"Much has been written about the way parties and politicians run election campaigns - but far less on how voters respond to them. Now, for the first time, On Message lays bare the connections between parties, media and the public. Using original and imaginative research, Pippa Norris and her team have produced that rarity: a book that tells us something genuinely new and important about the nature of Britain's politics."  Peter Kellner, BBC Television

"At last, a genuinely multi-method study of political campaigning. On Message will be a lasting contribution to 'media-effects' research." Shanto Iyengar, Stanford University

"This crisply-written book about Britain's 1997 General Election Campaign challenges a host of conventional beliefs about the significance of the communication strategies of the political parties, about the limited agenda-setting role of the mass media, and about the impact of the campaign on the political views of British voters.  The study benefits from the collective insights of a team of exceptionally experienced researchers.  Their sophisticated multi-method research design and apt comparisons capture the dynamic interplay among various political actors and settings with unusual clarity.  Given the careful delineation of theoretical bases and judgmental criteria, this study is destined to become a model for excellence in campaign communication research." Doris Graber, University of Illinois, Chicago

"On Message integrates the study of parties, voters and media in a clear and original way. It is a notable advance in the analysis of election communications. The title could be a comment on the book itself."Colin Seymour-Ure, University of Kent


Part I Context;

1. Theories of Political Communications;

2. The Campaign Context;

3. Understanding Media Effects.


Part II Process:

4. The Party Strategy;

5. The News Agenda;

6. The Public's Reaction.


Part III Impact:

7. On Civic Engagement;

8. On the Public's Agenda;

9. The Effects of Television News;

10.The Effects of Newspapers;


Conclusions: The Impact of Political Communications.

Technical Appendix and Bibliography.                      


Copyright 2004 Pippa Norris, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138. www.pippanorris.co

Last updated 12/06/2009