The News Media as a Mobilizing Agent: Understanding the Underlying Mechanisms Linking News Media Use and Political Participation in Today’s High-Choice Media Environment.

Research output: ThesisPh.D. thesis

Abstract

The news media are generally seen as important for citizens’ political participation, as they provide them with the necessary information to engage. However, with today’s abundant media supply, people can easily find alternative content if they do not like politics. In an attempt to attract people with a low interest in politics, the media are, therefore, increasingly mixing entertainment and information about politics in softer news formats. The democratic consequences of this development are unclear. Some see increased media choice as a challenge to secure broad-based political participation as it widens the gap between people with low and high interest in politics (e.g., Prior, 2007). Others see the softening of news reporting as an opportunity to inform the uninterested citizens and thereby narrow the motivational gap (e.g., Baum, 2003b). Against this backdrop, the purpose of this dissertation is to examine when and how news media use leads people to participate in political activities in today’s high-choice media environment.

To examine this question, the dissertation presents five empirical studies. These studies rely on data from a six-wave panel survey from Denmark, a content analysis of the Danish news media, and two survey experiments, which together allow for a dynamic examination of the relationships under consideration. The first study presents and tests a technique for measuring news media use in surveys. The second study combines this measurement technique with the content analysis to examine the overall relationship between exposure to political information in the news media and political participation. The third study examines how different news types affect political participation through a cognitive response state, defined as political knowledge and internal political efficacy. The fourth study examines the emotional response state by experimentally testing how the inclusion of exemplars in news reports may affect political participation through an empathic concern. Lastly, the fifth study examines how the use of soft news shows on television affects political participation.

Together, the five empirical studies show that the news media indeed function as a mobilizing agent and foster political participation (see Norris, 2000). However, the underlying pathway linking news media use to political participation is dependent on people’s motivation and the specific news type under consideration. First, while the relationship between exposure to political information in the news media and political participation in general is positive and reciprocal for people with high political interest, people with low political interest can also be mobilized to participate in politics through the use of soft news on television. Second, while the use of traditional newscasts on television, broadsheet newspapers and to some extent tabloid newspapers can lead to political participation through a cognitive response state, the type of content often used in softer news reporting can mobilize people through an emotional response state.

Highlighting the underlying mechanisms linking news media use and political participation, the dissertation advances our understanding of the democratic consequences of the transition to a high-choice media environment. If political participation is to be based on a broad representation of citizens, it must be accepted that this representation is not necessarily based on detailed knowledge of the political issues at stake. Instead, some citizens will participate in politics based on a less rational and also emotional foundation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Southern Denmark
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Skovsgaard, Morten, Supervisor
  • Albæk, Erik, Supervisor
  • de Vreese, Claes Holger, Supervisor
Place of PublicationOdense
Publisher
Print ISBNs9788793496989
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

Note re. dissertation

Print copy of the thesis is restricted to reference use in the Library.

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