Studying Real-Time Audience Responses to Political Messages: A New Research Agenda

Stephen Coleman, Giles Moss, Alvaro Martinez-Perez


Real-time response methods, which were developed by media and communication researchers as early as the 1940s, have significant potential for understanding media audiences today. However, this potential is not realized fully by current methods such as “the worm,” which are limited to collecting positive and negative responses and fail to examine why audience members respond as they do. This article advocates a new research agenda for understanding how audiences respond to political messages through real-time response methods. Instead of measuring preferences, we suggest that real-time response methods should focus on people’s sense of whether their democratic capabilities are advanced—an approach that would provide a more critical as well as a more nuanced understanding of how audiences respond to political communication. We describe an innovative Web-based app our team has designed to capture audience responses to political messages, and we outline some key questions we hope to address in future research.


real-time response, audience research, the capability approach, capabilities, political communication, televised election debates

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