Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Category: Center for Communication and Civic Renewal

UW Team Publishes “Polarization Over Vaccination: Ideological Differences in Twitter Expression About COVID-19”

New article “Polarization Over Vaccination: Ideological Differences in Twitter Expression About COVID-19 Vaccine Favorability and Specific Hesitancy Concerns” in the journal Social Media + Society from the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal. Continue reading

New CCCR publication “Free and Fair? The Differential Experiences of Voting Barriers and Voting Policies in American Midterm Elections”

New article “Free and Fair? The Differential Experiences of Voting Barriers and Voting Policies in American Midterm Elections” in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research from the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal (CCCR).

Abstract: In this research note, we provide evidence about burdens people face when voting and who benefits from policies designed to mitigate those burdens. Using pre-and-post 2018 midterm elections panel surveys in Wisconsin, we show that Black voters estimate greater time getting to the polls and Hispanic voters report longer wait times once they are there. Regarding who takes advantage of policies purported to ease these burdens on voting—early voting, voting by mail, and absentee voting—our analysis reveals that that those facing temporal disadvantages are not the groups benefiting from these electoral policy affordances.

Full citation: Jordan M Foley, Michael W Wagner, Ceri Hughes, Jiyoun Suk, Katherine J Cramer, Lewis A Friedland, Dhavan V Shah, Free and Fair? The Differential Experiences of Voting Barriers and Voting Policies in American Midterm Elections, International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 2021;, edab009,

Access the article:

New article from CCCR “Understanding Trump Supporters’ News Use: Beyond the Fox News Bubble”

In the new article “Understanding Trump Supporters’ News Use: Beyond the Fox News Bubble” in the journal The Forum, the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal (CCCR) group finds that many Trump supporters’ media consumption tends to be more omnivorous than solely Fox News. Continue reading

CCCR publishes “News Media Use, Talk Networks and Anti-Elitism Across Geographic Location: Evidence from Wisconsin”

In the new article “News Media Use, Talk Networks and Anti-Elitism Across Geographic Location: Evidence from Wisconsin” in the journal International Journal of Press/Politics, the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal (CCCR) group explores media consumption behaviors based on an individual’s geographic place. Continue reading

CCCR and HITS publish “News Attention and Social Distancing Behavior Amid COVID-19”

In the new article “News Attention and Social Distancing Behavior Amid COVID-19: How Media Trust and Social Norms Moderate a Mediated Relationship” in the journal Health Communication, the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal (CCCR) group examined the relationship between news media attention and social distancing behavior.


Despite the fact that social distancing is an effective mean to slow the spread of COVID-19, individuals often fail to practice this behavior. Major US news media provided information to the public about social distancing after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, potentially spurring this preventative health practice. Using data from a representative sample of US residents, this study aims to understand the relationship between news media attention and social-distancing behavior via three potential mediators: perceived effectiveness of social distancing, perceived susceptibility to COVID-19 infection, and perceived negative consequences of infection. Media trust and social norms concerning social distancing were included as potential moderators of these relationships, along with political ideology. With multiple regression and mediation analyses, we found that news media attention was positively associated with social-distancing behavior during this period. Perceived effectiveness of social distancing mediated this relationship, while perceived susceptibility and negative consequences of COVID-19 did not. Notably, media trust negatively moderated news attention’s impact on the perceived effectiveness of social distancing, with the relationship being more pronounced among those who have lower trust in media. Political ideology did not moderate the relationship between news attention and perceived effectiveness. Further, social norms negatively moderated the relationship between perceived effectiveness and social-distancing behavior, with this relationship growing stronger among those uncertain about the adoption of social-distancing norms in their circle. Overall, the study found news media to have an important role in promoting social-distancing behavior when they emphasized safety measures across the ideological spectrum.

Full citation: “News Attention and Social Distancing Behavior Amid COVID-19: How Media Trust and Social Norms Moderate a Mediated Relationship,” Xiaoya Jiang, Juwon Hwang, Dhavan V. Shah, Shreenita Ghosh and Markus, Health Communication, DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2020.1868064.

Access the article:

New Fact-Checking Projects Focus on Combating COVID-19 Misinformation

UW student Megan Skoyen dispenses viral transport media for COVID-19 test kits that are being created at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (WVDL) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on July 2, 2020. The WVDL is partnering with the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene, University Health Services, the School of Medicine and Public Health and others on campus to set up widespread COVID-19 testing for all students, faculty and staff in preparation to reopen the campus this fall. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

With information about COVID-19 rapidly circulating online, it can be difficult to determine what’s true and what’s not. Social media has made it even easier for misinformation and disinformation to spread unchecked. Knowing whether a claim or a source is reputable can be daunting, even for the savviest media consumers.

As the UW-Madison community of students, faculty and staff begin to plan their return to campus, having a verified and reliable source for information will be crucial to maintaining everyone’s health and safety. One such source is the COVID-19 Wisconsin Connect app.

Developed by a collaboration of campus groups, COVID-19 Wisconsin Connect is a free desktop and mobile app that provides accurate information, social support and helpful resources to Wisconsinites. One key feature of the app is the COVID-19 Fact Checker, a digest of information that separates COVID facts from fiction.

The information in the COVID-19 Fact Checker is provided by the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal (CCCR) within the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Communication experts from CCCR find questions and misinformation related to COVID-19 on social media in Wisconsin, and conduct fact-checks using vetted content from experts at leading health and government sources to correct the misinformation.

“We see it as an essential part of the Wisconsin Idea for students and faculty to work together to bring the best information about the pandemic to the people of our state,” said Michael Wagner, SJMC Professor and Director of the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal.

Fact-checks can be an effective way to both identify and correct misinformation about COVID-19. One group dedicated to this work, the International Fact-Checking Network’s (IFCN) CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, has been working diligently to catalog over 7,600 fact-checks about COVID-19 into the CoronaVirusFacts Database.

Recently, IFCN chose six new researchers to join the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance and receive access to the CoronaVirusFacts Database for their research projects. Two of the researchers selected are from UW SJMC: Assistant Professor Sijia Yang, faculty leader of the Mass Communication Research Center’s (MCRC) Computational Approaches and Message Effects Research (CAMER) Group, and graduate student Yiping Xia.

Yang’s project, “Identifying and Implementing Effective Visual Enhancements to Correct High-Priority COVID-19 Misinformation”, also received funding from IFCN. His project will examine how visual fact-checks, such as infographics or illustrations, can influence public understanding of COVID-19. Using the fact-checks from the database, the team will design a series of surveys and experiments to find which visual fact-checks are most effective at fighting COVID-19 misinformation. Additionally, he plans to use the findings from his research to add information to the Fact Checker within the COVID-19 Wisconsin Connect app.

SJMC graduate students Janice Li, Ran Tao and Communication Arts graduate student Liwei Shen are collaborating with Yang as student project leaders, with the input from SJMC professor Dhavan Shah and alum Porismita Borah, now an Associate Professor at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

“Many researchers around the world have already made impressive progress in tracking the rise and diffusion of various types of COVID-19 misinformation,” Yang said. “But not all misinformation is relevant for behaviors such as wearing masks and practicing physical distancing. Given limited resources and the severity of the pandemic, we need to focus on correcting misinformation that is most consequential for public health; we need to identify effective correction strategies to achieve that goal. Our project focuses on visual enhancements to corrections because visuals are often necessary to attract scant audience attention in today’s media environment and are potentially appealing to vulnerable populations with education deprivation or cognitive impairment. I hope the results from our project can inform our fact-checking efforts in CWC and provide evidence-based recommendations to the broader fact-checker community through our funder Poynter/IFCN.”

Xia’s project will look at how fact-checkers from around the world present fact-checks about the same information. By doing so, he hopes to understand diverse audience responses to similar misinformation in order to improve how fact-checkers communicate.

“I will work with SJMC Professor Lucas Graves to compare COVID-19 fact checks by organizations of different national backgrounds. We hope to understand how fact-checkers from different countries use different sources, or frame these sources differently, when writing about common themes of COVID-19 misinformation,” Xia said. “This research sheds light on the roles that cultural, political and institutional contexts may play in shaping effective responses to COVID-19 misinformation.”

The Wisconsin Idea in Action: MCRC Group Collaborates on COVID-19 Wisconsin Connect App

An embroidered W crest is pictured on a medical student’s white coat during floor rounds on the Neurocritical Intensive Care Unit at UW Hospital and Clinics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Aug. 18, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

The University of Wisconsin has a long tradition of quality education, strong community and dedicated service. These principles are all key to the Wisconsin Idea: that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

At the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, our faculty and students consistently and creatively exemplify the Wisconsin Idea in their classes, research, projects and more. Through collaboration within the department and with others throughout the University, SJMC is committed to having a positive impact in our community.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of more than 30 faculty, staff and students from a range of departments and organizations, including SJMC, came together to put the Wisconsin Idea into action. They created COVID-19 Wisconsin Connect, a free desktop and mobile app that provides accurate information, social support and helpful resources to Wisconsinites.

Funded by The Wisconsin Partnership Program through the School of Medicine and Public Health at UW-Madison, the app was built by adapting existing technology developed by the Center for Health Enhancement System Studies (CHESS).

“This takes the Wisconsin Idea to a whole new level,” said Dave Gustafson, Jr., CHESS project manager and IT director. “University, government and community organizations came together in a short period of time to make this happen.”

Returning briefly to a closed campus, undergraduate student Saikrishna Varadharajan (right) and his father Varadharajan Cancheepuram, both from Illinois, carry a large box as Saikrishna moves personal belongs out of his room in Dejope Residence Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during spring on May 2, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

The app features moderated discussion rooms, information on COVID-19 prevention and protection, coping techniques, and a resource center. Many app features are the result of collaborative partnerships, including audio meditations created by Healthy Minds Innovations, “All About COVID-19” health information from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the COVID-19 Fact Checker developed by the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal (CCCR) and the Computational Approaches and Message Effects Research Group (CAMER) within the Mass Communication Research Center (MCRC) in SJMC.

“Our team of faculty and students scour public Wisconsin social media conversations to determine which bits of potential misinformation are most prevalent in our state,” said Mike Wagner, SJMC Professor. “Then, we find reputable fact-checks that have been published on those topics and tailor them to our app and website so that Wisconsinites know what is true about COVID-19.”

To promote adoption of the app, SJMC faculty and students formed a virtual communications agency to coordinate a statewide marketing launch, which includes targeted outreach to groups at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, such as older adults, and Black and Latino communities.

“This has been a real wild ride,” said Doug McLeod, SJMC Evjue Centennial Professor. “The students stepped up to the plate and made a huge impact on this project in just a few short weeks – all while attending their classes. It has been a real trial-by-fire experience.”

Getting the app into the hands of users is an ongoing effort. SJMC students and faculty on the communications team are designing public relations campaigns, social media messaging and influencer materials to boost awareness and engagement with the app, to put the Wisconsin Idea into action and directly benefit the communities that need it most.

“I have loved working virtually alongside my professors and peers,” said Allyson Konz, a junior studying journalism and graphic design. “It’s given me a sense of purpose and community in such an unpredictable time. Knowing that this will really help Wisconsinites makes all the hard work worth it.”

As the state of Wisconsin begins to reopen and the University of Wisconsin announces its plans for the fall semester, accurate information about COVID-19 is increasingly important. The COVID-19 Wisconsin Connect app is available for free on the web, the App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android.

CCCR publishes new article, “Do Improving Conditions Harden Partisan Preferences? Lived Experiences, Imagined Communities, and Polarized Evaluations”

The Center for Communication and Civic Renewal (CCCR) has a new article published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research titled “Do Improving Conditions Harden Partisan Preferences? Lived Experiences, Imagined Communities, and Polarized Evaluations”. The article was published in January 2020. Continue reading

Knight Gives $1.0 Million for Center for Communication and Civic Renewal

Researchers in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been awarded a $1 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to establish the Center for Communication and Civic Renewal. Professors Lew Friedland, Dhavan Shah and Mike Wagner, along with collaborators in the Department of Political Science (Katherine Cramer), Department of Statistics (Karl Rohe), the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (William Sethares), and Boston University (Chris Wells) are co-principal investigators on the project.

The research team seeks to understand the state of politics and communication in Wisconsin over the last decade using ongoing public opinion research, computational content analysis of media, and qualitative fieldwork and interviews of citizens and elites. The center will conduct comparative public opinion research in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina to further an understanding of ways Wisconsin is similar and different from other battleground states.

“Understanding how we move beyond polarized politics and toward civic renewal is a large-scale effort that required detailed and extended study of the communication ecology and its social consequences using a range of approaches,” said Shah, who will lead the computational efforts. “Without support from the Knight Foundation, this kind of multi-year, multi-method project would be impossible. But it is only through this kind of holistic research that we can start to understand how to heal our fractured political culture.”

Wagner, who has written prolifically about workings of American democratic institutions and processes, said by studying how the news and conversations on social media influence attitudes and political behavior and knowledge, the center seeks an understanding of how Wisconsin politics became so contentious.

“We want to understand what we can do to help ease that polarization and encourage more productive political processes in the legislature and between citizens across lines of political difference. The fracturing in Wisconsin is a problem because democracy requires cooperation and compromise across lines of political difference,” Wagner said.

In addition to survey research, the grant will fund five graduate student project assistants, help hold conferences that will bring in scholars and practitioners every other year, establish a partnership with local media to work on styles of news coverage and practices that are most likely to improve citizens’ feelings of respect across the political aisle. The grant will help to fund the center through the 2024 election, which will include two presidential election cycles and one Wisconsin governor’s race.

A group of 12 former and current graduate students has worked on the project over the past several years which until recently was unfunded. One of those students is Josephine Lukito, whose dissertation focuses on news coverage of U.S.-China economic relations.

“The training and collaborative opportunities for students in our department are second to none. This grant gives us a chance to push our integration of computational content analysis and time-series analysis forward in innovative ways that can shed important light on contentious politics,” Lukito said.

Friedland pointed to the scope of the qualitative components of the project, saying, “We continue to build on our co-investigator Kathy Cramer’s pathbreaking work. With our outstanding graduate students, we have conducted hundreds of interviews with Wisconsinites from every corner of the state, integrating the substance of these conversations with data we have gathered on counties’ economic, health and education outcomes and our own public opinion surveys. These interviews provide much needed depth and context to what we are finding with our other analytic strategies.”

The UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication is a top choice for prospective graduate students interested in conducting political communication and civic engagement research and interdisciplinary mass communication research. The funding will further serve as a recruiting tool to attract top students interested in those disciplines.

Knight Foundation invests in the arts and journalism with a goal in fostering informed and engaged communications that are essential for a healthy democracy.

Populism Conference Website Launched with Presentation Videos

The website featuring the collection of presentations and reflections on communication and populism from our “Communication, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy” conference is now available (link to website).  In Spring 2018, the Civic Culture and Contention Politics Group, with support from the UW’s Center for European Studies, hosted an international symposium and workshop exploring how democracies across Europe and the Americas are responding to the rise of populism and its roots in communication. Speakers considered how growing polarization and fragmentation in the media ecology, as reflected in partisan media, broadcast content, political advertising and social media, has contributed to ideological and partisan political divides. This included keynote presentations from Lance Bennett and Pippa Norris, and talks from Julia Azari, Sheri Berman, Sven Engesser, Frank Esser, Karolina Koc Michalska, Daniel Kreiss, Jorg Matthes, Deb Roy, Talia Jomini Stroud, Silvio Waisbord, and UW faculty Kathy Cramer, Lew Friedland, Dhavan Shah, Mike Wagner, and Chris Wells. The conference website highlights how insights from the events were folded into our larger project on Wisconsin’s communication ecology and the politics of contention.  This project has since secured over $800,000 to study political communication in Wisconsin during the 2018, 2020, and 2022 election cycles.