Substantive news content gives young people more confidence in politics. These are the research findings of University of Amsterdam (UvA) communications scientist Maud Adriaansen. The results of her study will appear shortly in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research.
Most news content is substantiveAdriaansen examined the impact of strategic and substantive media coverage during the previous parliamentary elections held in the Netherlands in November 2006. For this purpose, she analysed the coverage on television and in newspapers in the months before the election. A total of 2,148 messages were examined: 1367 articles from traditional newspapers, 138 articles from freely distributed newspapers, 413 television news reports and 230 messages from current affairs columns. Contrary to popular belief, the political news is chiefly about the content; a majority of the messages were content-based (68 per cent) and were related to the policies and views of politicians. In addition, about half of the messages were strategic (48%). This news was about polls, strategies and future political coalitions. War rhetoric was also often used: it is not a coincidence that the word ‘campaign' is originally a military term.
Substantive news content instils confidenceAdriaansen studied the effects of this media reporting on young people (18-34 years) and the rest of the electorate in the months before the election. 144 young voters and 559 voters participated in this study. Substantive reports appear to have a positive influence on younger voters, making them less politically cynical. If young people get more information about politics, they understand the issues better, which leads to them being more positive about the motives and competencies of politicians. The news coverage had little impact on the rest of the electorate. This is not strange, as it is young voters in particular who have little experience with politics and are still forming their opinions.
Contrast with the U.SAmerican research shows that strategic news makes people cynical about politics. In the Netherlands this is not the case: strategic news showed no influence on people's trust in politics. This may be due to the amount of strategic messages: this is much higher in the United States. If only part of the news is strategic, then it clearly has no negative influence.
Substantive news content more valued than strategic newsAnother study conducted by the city of Amsterdam's Department for Research and Statistics (O+S) and the UVA during the local elections in 2010 showed that the majority of the news is, therefore, substantive and that this is more interesting to voters than strategic news.
Strategic news is therefore not detrimental to public confidence in politics as long as it does not fully replace substantive news content. Voters finds substantive news more interesting and this gives them greater trust in politics.