Adolescence is regarded as a formative period for political development. One important developmental context is media. Negatively perceived political media content can foster populistic attitudes, which in turn decreases support of political institutions, such as the EU. Because media valence effects are short-lived, this study examined intra-individual associations of media valence with European identity commitment and affect towards the EU, as well as indirect effects via populistic attitudes across 10 days. Specifically, we predicted that on days on which adolescents perceive more negative media valence than they usually do, they will report higher than usual populistic attitudes and in turn, higher negative emotions towards the EU and lower European identity commitment than they usually do.
We implemented a 10-day daily diary study with 371 adolescents from Germany (January to February 2022). Adolescents were on average 14.24 years old (SD = 0.55) and 60.4% were female. We estimated the hypothesized associations using multilevel structural equation models and dynamic structural equation models.
We found significant associations between populistic attitudes and negative affect towards the EU on the same day and the next day. The lagged effect became non-significant, when including both same day and lagged effects into one model. Populistic attitudes were not significantly associated with European identity commitment within days or across days. Negative media content was associated with higher populistic attitudes on the same day and indirectly associated with negative affect towards the EU (b = -0.01, 95% CI [-0.010, -0.004]). We further wanted to assess in an exploratory manner, whether seeing negative media content (vs. neutral or no political media content) would have different effects on e.g., populistic attitudes than seeing positive content (vs. neutral or no political media content).While perceived negative media content instead of other media content was significantly associated with populistic attitudes and negative affect towards the EU (directly and mediated), perceived positive media content instead of other media content was not associated with populistic attitudes or negative affect towards the EU (directly or mediated).
Adolescence is a formative period for the development of political orientations. The present study shows that perceived negative political content is associated with higher populistic attitudes on the same day, which in turn is linked to higher negative affect towards the EU. A similar association could not be found for European identity commitment. Overall, our results suggest that media can influence adolescent’s political socialization, especially when media report negatively about political content. Educating adolescents in their media literacy and help them reflect on tone of media and how it affects them could be useful in reducing populistic attitudes.Link to paper > Contact > Website >