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Angels gedoopt in honing: politieke tekeningen en hun betekenis

Journal Res Publica, Issue 3 2015
Keywords political cartoons, visual (mis)communication, psychological defense mechanism, Dutch politics
Authors Joop van Holsteyn
AbstractAuthor's information

    Over the years, political cartoons have triggered debate and fierce and violent reactions. Apparently, cartoonists are able to get their critical, ‘negative’ message across both to the political elite and the general public at large. This line of reasoning, however, assumes that the communication between cartoonists and their mass public is successful, i.e., that the message that the cartoonist intends to send is correctly interpreted and received as intended. This is not obvious, since the decoding of the encrypted message of a cartoon is a complicated process that can easily go wrong, as the scarce research on the topic suggests. This study explores the idea that cartoons are correctly understood on the basis of a unique large scale survey in which over 24,000 respondents were asked via multiple-choice questions to identify the original, intended message of 11 cartoons of two Dutch cartoonists. The results show that overall it is extremely hard to correctly understand the meaning of cartoons. Moreover, among the few factors that help explain the difference in the capability to correctly understand cartoons, political preference is prominent and intriguing. People tend to ascribe a meaning to cartoons/cartoonists that fits their own political stand, and this suggests that psychological mechanisms are at work that may explain that more often than not the communication between the cartoonist and his public should likely be labelled miscommunication.


Joop van Holsteyn
Joop van Holsteyn is neerlandicus en politicoloog en is verbonden aan het Instituut voor Politieke Wetenschap van de Universiteit Leiden. In zijn onderzoek houdt hij zich onder meer bezig met verkiezingen en kiesgedrag, publieke opinie en opiniepeilingen, politieke partijen en partijlidmaatschap, en politieke tekeningen en hun betekenis.
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