Previous research in political communication has shown that visual news coverage can affect news consumers’ evaluations of political candidates. Yet, so far, the effects of subtle (positive/negative) visual background cues on candidate evaluation remain largely unclear. Also, the role of individuals’ media trust has not been explored in this context. That is, trusting individuals may interpret subtle visual cues in different ways compared with mistrusting individuals. Drawing from theory on visual communication, media trust, and the persuasion knowledge model a quota-based online experiment revealed that media trust moderates the relationship between the exposure to negative visual cues and candidate evaluation in the context of a political scandal. Mistrusting individuals showed more positive candidate evaluations, whereas trusting individuals showed more negative evaluations. Thus, visual background cues can have a polarising effect on citizens’ evaluations of political actors and influence the electorate in very different ways. Implications for journalism practice are discussed.
von Sikorski, C. (2021). Visual polarisation: Examining the interplay of visual cues and media trust on the evaluation of political candidates. Journalism. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884920987680