American Sociological Association

The Micropolitics of Legitimacy: Political Positioning and Journalistic Scrutiny at the Boundary of the Mainstream

When journalists elicit opinion and policy pronouncements from politicians, this engages a two-dimensional struggle over (1) where the politician stands on the issue in question and (2) the legitimacy of that position. Using data drawn from broadcast news interviews and news conferences, this paper anatomizes the key features of political positioning questions and their responses, and documents a tension surrounding relatively marginal or extreme views that tend to be treated cautiously by politicians but are pursued vigorously by journalists. The findings shed light on how politicians balance appeals to centrist and partisan viewers, how journalists police the boundaries of mainstream politics, and how both parties contribute to a process of legitimation that enacts and at times modifies the parameters of the sociopolitical mainstream.

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Steven E. Clayman





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