The role of agenda setting in influencing public opinion: a case study of the 2010 constitutional referendum outcome
Aballa, Joseph S.
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The 2010 National Constitutional Referendum paved way for one of the most engaging discourse periods in the history of public opinion influence in Kenya. Pitting two strikingly divided political camps against each other, the proponents and tpe opponents of the newly drafted national constitution, the event was marked with some of the most fever-pitch moments of political persuasion and dissuasion- similar to those witnessed during the general elections. (OTJR, 2010) This study sought to examine the extent to which media influence affected the public in voting for the new constitution that was finally passed and promulgated in August, 2010. The specific research objectives included to determine whether agenda setting by media houses affected attitude change regarding the referendum of the new constitution in 2010 and to establish whether viewers perceived fairness of media coverage during the referendum of the new constitution in 2010 period changed after watching news stories. The study also sought to determine whether viewers perceived credibility of media houses changed after watching news coverage. The results indicate that the role played by the media was indeed significant in influencing the voting preference with more than half of the respondents (51 %), who answered the question of whether news coverage influenced how they were likely to vote admitting to having been influenced by the media's agenda. This is further reinforced by the 56% of the respondents who said that newspaper headlines influenced their voting preference in the 2010 constitutional referendum. However, exposure levels were oflittle significance to the likelihood of opinion change by the media consumers -propelling the supposition that qualitative packaging of the media agenda setting process is likely to have a heavier influence on public opinion than mere quantitative exposure. This is further supported by the test of perceived media credibility that scored higher at almost six in ten respondents, or 60% and which depicts confidence in integrity and trust among sampled media consumers. This is regardless of whether the consumed media content was deemed factual or not as recorded in the drop to only 35% percent ofthe respondents when they were asked to rate the perceived factualness of the media content they were exposed to.