Members of the School of Communication present research at ECA Conference

Scott Dunn and Kyra Keene
Dr. Scott Dunn and Kyra Keene attend the ECA Conference in Baltimore

By LeeAnn Scarberry

Dr. Scott Dunn, graduate student Kristina Contreras and undergraduate student Kyra Keene presented their research at the Eastern Communication Association conference, which was held in Baltimore from March 30-April 3, 2016.

Dunn's presentation, which was titled "Candidate Branding in the 2016 Presidential Primaries" was a collaboration with James Collier, an associate professor in advertising and Dan Waidelich, a graduate student.

Combining both of their backgrounds, advertising and political communication, Dunn and Collier had also collaborated on an earlier project, which looked at branding in politics.  "We realized that could be a concept that could be really helpful in politics as well," Dunn said.

The earlier research was presented a few years ago and this year Dunn and his collaborators started to look at the advertisements of the presidential candidates in the primaries right now.

"Since we proposed this study, it got a lot more interesting because I, like a lot of people who study politics, really didn't expect Donald Trump to be a serious candidate," Dunn said. "Initially our question was just how are the candidates branding themselves, now our question is what can that tell us about how something that nobody saw coming has happened."

They began to look at brand differentiation, what makes the brand or in this case candidate different from the others.

The only Republican candidate that differentiated himself from the others was Donald Trump.  "Part of the argument we're going to make is that at least part of the explanation for the Trump 'phenomenon' is that the other candidates just didn't brand themselves well," Dunn said.

Contreras also presented her research titled, "Examining Political Information Efficacy and Social Capital in the 2016 Presidential Primary Race".

"Political Information Efficacy is the confidence an individual has with the knowledge in politics that they have," Contreras said. This does not mean that the information is correct or incorrect but just the confidence in what someone thinks they know.

She was looking to see if any outside factors changed that confidence in political knowledge. She looked at cynicism, actual political knowledge, and resources that someone obtains in participation in discussions of politics.

To test this, she did a pre-test post-test design survey. "I had a set of survey questions that we provided to a group of students, then they watched a political debate...Afterwards we had them take a follow up survey," Contreras said. "Then we compared these results to make a determination of if there were correlations between the variables in the Political Information Efficacy."

Keene, a senior, presented research that she did in Dunn's political communication class. Her presentation was titled, "The Year of the Virginia Donkey: Negative Advertising in the 2013 Virginia Gubernatorial Election".

"I analyzed the ads for each candidate, mostly McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, and compared them and looked at how the two approaches affected voter turnout," she said.

She found that negative advertisements encouraged people to vote for that candidate. The candidate with the most negative advertisements won the election.

While both Dunn and Contreras have presented at ECA before, for Keene this was the first time.

"I've never talked in front of people like that before," she said.

Apr 14, 2016
School of Communication