Us Versus Them and the Role of the Media. The Influence of Media on Attitudes Toward Migration in Europe

Abstract: During the last decade, migration has become one of the most salient and politicized issues in Europe, and even more so during and after the sharp rise in immigration in 2015. This issue appears to have consolidated a central position in political debates and on media agendas across European countries. At the same time, there are sharp differences within as well as between European countries, in attitudes toward migration and perceptions of migration. This makes it important to understand how people’s attitudes toward migration are shaped. In this context, the media – a key source of political information – is likely to play a crucial role. The aim of this dissertation is therefore to investigate when and how the media influence public attitudes toward migration, and perceptions of migration across European countries. Toward this end, the dissertation combines media effect theories and intergroup relationship theories, and relies on panel data as well as a survey experiment conducted in seven European countries. The main findings of the dissertation are: (a) The effects of media use on attitudes and perceptions depend on where the migration is coming from, (b) The effects vary between media types, and alternative media appear to have more substantial effects on attitudes toward immigration than traditional media, (c) The relationships between media use and attitudes is likely to be reciprocal, (d) Emotions and perceptions can function as mediators that explain framing effects on attitudes toward immigration, but emotions appear to be a more important mediator than perceptions, and (e) Media do not always move public opinion on migration, and the effects are country-specific rather than universal.

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