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A Longitudinal Investigation into the Effects of Deliberative Quality of Political Debates in the Media on Political Trust in the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium)

Programme group Challenges to Democratic Representation

Within the public and scholarly debate concerns have been expressed repeatedly about the negative influence of the media on the democratic process. Moving from public to media logic, ‘programs in the public interest’ are replaced by ‘programs the public is interested in’.

In this new media environment politicians are more likely to express controversial one-liners and wage uncivil attacks on their opponents to receive media coverage. Coarse political debates violate social norms and are argued to have detrimental effects on citizens’ political trust and the functioning of democracy.

Objective

Despite the fact that it is repeatedly claimed that political debates in the media have coarsened over time leading to detrimental effects on citizens’ political trust, little effort has been made to investigate this. The question how the media influence political trust is of paramount importance as political trust is a key resource for a democratic political system influencing citizens’ willingness to commit public resources to policy ends and accept political decisions.

This research project develops a framework to theorise and analyse the effect of the deliberative quality of political debates in the media on political trust. Using content analysis techniques and building on the deliberative democracy literature, it studies the trends in the deliberative quality of the political debate in the media in the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium) between 1980 and 2015. By means of experiments and survey data, light will be shed on the effect of the quality of political debates in the media on political trust.

Relevance

This project is theoretically innovative by integrating media-effects literature and deliberative democracy literature and empirically innovative by gathering a unique and comprehensive dataset. As a result, this project contributes substantially to the scholarly, societal and political debate on the trends within the deliberative quality of political debate in the media and the functioning of representative democracy in general.

Period: 01/01/2015 until 31/12/2018

Funding: NWO Veni