Political Science

Pedro dos Santos and Vicky Torrillas

Research Project: Presidential Image Before and After a Crisis: Examining Newspaper Coverage of Dilma Rousseff In Brazilian Newspapers in 2013 and 2015

Vicky Torrillas Pizzorno ’17, Political Science and International Studies
Pedro dos Santos, Assistant Professor of Political Science

An In-Depth Look at Political Perceptions

Torillas Pizzorno is analyzing the public image of former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. The research primarily focuses on the years following a political crisis.

Rousseff was accused of using money from giant public banks to cover budget gaps, damaging the nation’s economic credibility. “I want to understand how the media can shape a president’s image in a favorable or disfavorable way,” Torillas Pizzorno says. “I hope to further expand my research to compare and contrast her public image in the years 2012 and 2014 as well.”

Working with the Data

Torillas Pizzorno says the most challenging part of this project was creating the databases and analyzing the data against existing literature. “In order for it to be a good piece of research, we couldn’t solely rely on our own data,” she says.

Dos Santos agrees. “We knew we had a lot of newspapers articles to code, so we developed a sampling method to make sure we were covering a representative sample of the articles in various newspapers.”

How Media Affects Public Image

Torillas Pizzorno says it was most interesting to notice the downward trend on Rousseff’s public acceptance during the months leading to an electoral year. “Since the big scandal happened in 2011, her approval rate practically plummeted and there was a lot of work being done by people in the government to improve her public image,” she says.

Dos Santos noticed how different newspapers and countries refer to president Rousseff and how it can affect public opinion. “For instance, some newspapers use presidenta to refer to the president, while other use presidente,” he says. Torillas Pizzorno recognized how newspapers supportive of the government use presidenta, and those opposing the president use presidente.

A Unique Learning Experience

Torillas Pizzorno knows that leading her own research and presenting findings at conferences is an exceptional opportunity for an undergraduate at most colleges and universities. “This opportunity has contributed greatly to my education,” she says. “I’ve learned how to use many research methods, work collaboratively with a professor, create databases, and analyze complex data to formulate results that can be shared with others.”

Acquiring Useful Skills

Professor dos Santos says that building a database, determining sampling sizes, and codifying newspaper articles are all skills that can be translated to many professions post-Luther. “This work helps students develop independent thinking and agency to solve problems,” he says. “All are skills that many employers appreciate.”

How Will the Results Be Shared?

Torillas Pizzorno will present at the North Central Council of Latin Americanists Conference in La Crosse, Wis. She’ll also team up with another student to develop separate, but related research. They'll present their information at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference.