Source credibility study of Det Radikale Venstre

The primary objective of the study is to gain knowledge of the source credibility of the Danish political party Det Radikale Venstre in everyday political discourse, and secondarily to discuss how this knowledge can qualify target group communication by the party. In this brief presentation it is only the former that is relevant to discussing Q, so I will refrain from summarizing the communication strategy.

Theoretical introduction to credibility
The tradition of studying audience assessment to credibility, has very much inherited its ideas of rhetoric in ancient Greece. Thus, the conceptualisation proposed by Aristotle conceiving three dimensions; moral character, intelligence and good will, has founded this line of research into audience reception of source credibility. The leading scientist of this tradition is James C. McCroskey, who has greatly contributed to the development of the scales by which credibility can be measured. In the vast majority of these studies, the research design has used Likert scale questionaires and the R-factor-type of analysis (Gaziano&McGrath 86; Hovland 68; McCroskey 66, 81 and 99; Tuppen 74; West 94). Hence, within varying contexts, the R-factorial studies have produced several types of scales suggesting sets of dimensions such as McCroskey's; character, competence and extroversion, by which receivers evaluate credibility.
However, the Danish researcher Christian Kock comments, that the proposed scales for measurement during the last fifty years of research more or less correspond with Aristotle's classical definition. Thus, the definition is still proof and we, as McCroskey also implies, do not need further research into the concept (Kock 02). In the present study, this three-dimensional structure of credibility evaluation from Aristotle therefore remains the main framing concept for approaching the processes, which are activated in the receivers' mind.
In addition, my research design is inspired by a study by Christian Kock. He suggests that impact from the premises of TV media has no effect on credibility evaluation, because credibility form an independent factor in opposition to the other factors, labelled charisma and "one-of-us-appeal". More interestingly, his findings showed a significant loading of the item "agrees with sender" on the credibility dimension. This can be seen as a form of effective linkage between political affiliation and credibility evaluation, thus receivers tend to trust senders with whom they politically agree. In this regard, the fact that different political affiliations should influence the structure of evaluation, the following hypothesis emanated, not only might some voters distrust by disagreeing; the entire structure of the proces by which they evaluate might be influenced.
Theoretical approach to receivers' evaluation
As everyday political discourse among voters should be seen as a complex phenomena, the theoretical framing of research into evaluation arises from the early thinking of a social constructivist approach to credibility definition, presented by Jesse G. Delia in 1976. The notion in this approach is, that research into processes by which a public audience assess source credibility, requires complex modelling of the interrelations of numerous credibility cues in constructs within the receivers' mind (Delia 76). But what Delia saw in the social influence on individual interpretation of the message sender, never really was adopted within the tradition for source credibility evaluation research.
Nevertheless, this theoretical contribution is valuable, as the construction of motives for evaluating both sender and messages has a social aspect.  This idea was put forward by Jonathan Potter and Margaret Wetherell in their media discourse analysis, within which reception repertoires is a central configuration for evaluating media experiences (Potter&Wetherell 87). For practical purposes, Kim Schrøder suggests ascription of five interdependent aspects to this reception repertoire. They are, motivation, understandability, source criticism, attitude and action (Schrøder 03). Among these, attitude can be seen as the most relevant to understand how political affiliation influences the evaluation proces. But it is crucial to view these aspects as a form of dynamic circuit. Thus, they all should be in question when the process is explored. A single aspect can neither be isolated for analysis, nor should any hierarchical thinking be forced upon the model.
Therefore the numerous credibility cues, e.g the receivers' own personal beliefs, all have to be considered salient within the evaluation proces. In attempting to examine the interrelations between them, the theoretical frame in this analysis experimented with a combined analysis, utilizing common and specific topoi from Aristotle’s classical rhetoric (Aristotle 84). The liberal value of freedom-responsibility in voters' ideological framing of political thought has a highly negative effect on the evaluation of a political party with a more social framing within their policy. Thus, the attitude has great influence on e.g source critism and motivation and the evaluation will obviously tend to be negative. In this manner topoi structures represented in everyday political discourse is used to explore the way cues relate and infer with each other.

Using Q methodology

The main task of the empirical research in the study, was to explore the correspondance between political belief and dimensional structure, as Aristotle in the evaluation of the partys source credibility. By using Q-methodological research design, 28 informants who corresponded to four political affiliations were interviewed and their Q sorts factor analyzed. The selection of participants was based upon a hypothetical election campaign strategy experienced by interviewing the press officer at the party organisation. Thus, the participants are voters from the political parties Venstre, Socialdemokraterne, Socialistisk Folkeparti and Det Radikale Venstre, from which a group of politicians additionally were interviewed.

In the preliminary analysis of four semi-structured interviews with a journalist, a voter and two politicians, the focus on items relating to the Aristotelian dimensions: moral character, intelligence and good will, provided material for hypothesis making. A range of traits and attributes of the party appeared, and thus the hypothesis was formed by four clusters of credibility cues 1) expertness and competence 2) personal charisma and appearance 3) moral values 4) political issues, policy making and ideology. To cover these, a Q sample of 49 items was selected from a total of nearly 100 naturalistically formulated viewpoints from the preface material.
The Q analysis was initiated with a strong emphasis on the advantages of  quantitative and qualitative combination. The resulting four-factor solution with varimax rotation, showed different conceptualisations with correspondance to the participants' political beliefs.
Factor A consisted of three politicians from Det Radikale Venstre and all six of the party's voters. Hence, a group of politicians and their voters are conjoined by the same viewpoint. Within this, a human down-to-earth attitude, openness and understandability of the politicians is emphasized to support credibility, even less than expertness and competence. Therefore, politicians' public appearence accounted for a great part of this viewpoints configuration of credibility evaluation. Factor B, consisting of five Venstre-voters (liberals) only, very much activated the affiliational opposition to the party in the credibility evaluation. This viewpoint merely spoke about traits of credibility, as they do not find the policy of the party credible or reliable. Generally though, they confined their evaluation of credibility to attributes like expertness and competence e.g effectiveness, unambiguosity and resolution. Interestingly, among these participants was found a very strong effect from the liberalistic values within their affiliation. Thus, interlinking between aspects in their reception repertoire was very clear. Factor C was likewise significant in loadings. All four participant loadings constituting this viewpoint were politicians. In this configuration of credibility evaluation weight, was put on professionalism, factuality, dispassion and deliberateness, which mostly relates to expertness and competence. Hence, this group depart from politicians and their voters within Factor A. Within the variance accounted for, the last Factor D comprises the viewpoint that credibility is very much inferred with individual and emotional perceptions of both politicians and the policy. To trust a political party is an emotional matter in all aspects.     

Delia, Jesse G 1976: A constructivist analysis of the concept of credibility, Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol 62 dec. p. 361-375

McCroskey, James C. and Teven J.J. 1999: Goodwill: A reexamination of the construct and its measurements, Communication monograph, vol 66, p. 90-103
Potter, Jonathan and Wetherell, Margaret 1987: Discourse and social psychology, Sage Publications, London
For short introduction to topoi in Aristoteles' rhetoric see the Stanford Encyclopedia here