Spectacular Politics, Dramatic Interpretations: Multiple Meanings in the Thomas/Hill Hearings

Virginia Sapiro, Joe Soss

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    17 Scopus citations


    Symbolic politics theories suggest that political events take on multiple meanings and that societal groups respond to a given event on the basis of different interpretations. We explore this claim through a quantitative case study of popular responses to a single political spectacle, the Senate hearings that investigated Anita Hill's claims against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Our findings suggest that Hill and Thomas supporters responded to the hearings on the basis of fundamentally different considerations. Moreover, the considerations that drove support for each actor varied across groups defined by race, gender, and levels of media attention. Finally, different structures of consideration influenced the direction and extremity of mass responses to this spectacle. Our analysis supports interpretivist theories of political communication and casts doubt on the presumption that citizens with opposing responses to a political event share a common dimension of conflict. In addition, we argue that mass responses to political spectacles can be studied within a framework that is general enough to be portable across cases. While the specific meanings that attend a political drama will always be "case specific," the ways in which these meanings vary across mass publics can be understood through a more general set of analytic dimensions. We discuss the implications of our analysis for scholarship addressing mass-mediated political spectacles, public opinion, and democratic theory.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)285-314
    Number of pages30
    JournalPolitical Communication
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Jul 1 1999


    • Clarence Thomas Hearings;Framing;Political Spectacles;Preferences;Preference;Extremity


    Dive into the research topics of 'Spectacular Politics, Dramatic Interpretations: Multiple Meanings in the Thomas/Hill Hearings'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this