Topics and Readings

Monday 18 July

Changing Media Environments, Changing Democracies

To a significant degree, the quality and character of democracy in a particular country depends on its media system and the infrastructure for collecting, assessing and disseminating societally relevant information across different segments in society. Scholars and practitioners alike have thus long recognized that one of the most important democratic functions of journalistic media is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing. One key implication of this is that changes in media environments – including changes with respect to the media institutions, media organizations, media channels, media formats and the media coverage of politics and society, but also with respect to people’s media use in general and use of news media in particular – inevitably will have democratic consequences. Against this background, this talk will outline key changes in media environments across established democracies and the democratic challenges these might have from a democratic perspective.

Reading list:

Aalberg, T., Blekesaune, A., & Elvestad, E. (2013). Media Choice and Informed Democracy. Toward Increasing News Consumption Gaps in Europe? International Journal of Press/Politics 18(3), 281–303.

Prior, M. (2005). News  vs. Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge and Turnout. American Journal of Political Science 49(3), 577–592.

Strömbäck, J., Djerf-Pierre, M., & Shehata, A. (2013). The Dynamics of Political Interest and News Media Consumption: A Longitudinal Perspective. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 25(4), 414–435.


Causal Attribution, Political Information and Electoral Behaviour

This seminar examines the role of political information and causal attribution in electoral behaviour, in particular within studies of retrospective voting based on government policies and handling of the economy. Do voters hold governments to account for personal economic grievances? While politicians and pundits widely assume personal economic conditions to be key determinants of political attitudes and behavior, students of electoral politics have found little empirical evidence suggesting that people vote based on the personal economic grievances they experience (Kinder and Kiewit 1979; Feldman 1982; Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2000; Sears 1993; Soss and Schram 2007). As Kiewit (1983: 523) put it three decades ago, personal economic experiences and political behavior “inhabit separate mental domains.” Recent studies, however, have found that voters do respond to specific government policies that affect their livelihoods and pocketbooks and adjust their political preferences and electoral behavior accordingly, in the case of a military draft in times of war (Erikson and Stoker 2011), job training programs in case of economic crisis (Margalit 2012) or relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters (Bechtel and Hainmueller 2011; Healy and Malhotra 2010) for example. How can we reconcile these recent findings with the existing scholarly consensus that personal economic considerations have limited impact on individual political choices? Why do citizens reward their governments for specific policies that affect them directly, but are generally largely unresponsive to changes in their personal economic situation? In this seminar we explore these questions by considering underlying processes of causal attribution. Specifically, we consider how gathering relevant political information allows people to solve the causal attribution problem.

Reading list:

De Vries, Catherine and Sara Hobolt. 2016. “Do voters hold governments to account for personal economic grievances? Evidence from a natural experiment.” Working Paper: University of Oxford.

Feldman, Stanley. 1982. “Economic Self-Interest and Political Behavior.” American Journal of Political Science 26:3 446–66.

Gomez, Brad T., and J. Matthew Wilson. 2001. “Political Sophistication and Economic Voting in the American Electorate: A Theory of Heterogeneous Attribution.” American Journal of Political Science 45:899–914.

Healy, Anthony and Neil Malhotra. 2013. “Retrospective Voting Reconsidered.” Annual Review of Political Science 16: 285-306.

Malhotra, Neil, and Alexander G. Kuo. 2008. “Attributing blame: The public’s response to Hurricane Katrina”. Journal of Politics 70 (1): 120–35.

Tuesday 19 July

The fragmentation and polarization of today’s news environment and their impact on electoral behaviour

Two important concerns have been sparked by the rapid changes in today’s news media landscape due to digitalization: fragmentation and polarization. The number of news outlets available to citizens continues to grow, and at the same time the offered content is increasingly tailored to individual interests based on news consumers’ choices and sophisticated algorithms. But do these changes actually result in greater differences in citizens’ political information intake (fragmentation) or even an increasing divergences along political lines (polarization)? And in what ways does the fragmentation and/or polarization of news diets have an impact on electoral behaviour?

To address these questions, the lecture will start out with a theoretical discussion of the different levels of fragmentation and polarization – audience level, content level and effects level – and summarize the related empirical research. As a next step, it will present a number of tools for addressing the methodological challenges inherent in any investigation of fragmentation and polarization. For this purpose, it shall draw on a recent empirical study on fragmentation and polarization due to online news media during a national election campaign in a multi-party democracy (Austria). The study combined a three-wave panel survey (n = 2.945) on news media usage and party preferences with an extensive semi-automated content analysis of the complete political coverage of all relevant news media outlets (N = 34.528 in 39 online and offline news outlets). Mapping individual online and offline news diets as media usage networks, the study can show that large overlaps in news usage still persist in Austria, in particular during election campaigns, reducing fears of fragmentation on the news audience level. Regarding the fragmentation of content, only a certain regionalization can be observed, consistent with the federal political system in Austria. Looking at the salience of political candidates, there also is some evidence of polarization in individual news diets. Based on random effects regression models, however, the impact of the polarized news content on individual shifts in preference for the different candidates during the campaign is minimal.

The lecture will close by discussing the normative implications of these results and by pointing out persisting gaps in the research on fragmentation and polarization, in particular related to the algorithmic individualization of news diets.

Reading list:

Bakshy, E., Messing, S., & Adamic, L. (2015). Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook. Science, 348(6239), 1130-1132.

Lee, J. K. (2007). The effect of the Internet on homogeneity of the media agenda: A test of the fragmentation hypothesis. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 84, 745-760.

Lelkes, Y., Sood, G., & Iyengar, S. (2015). The Hostile Audience: The Effect of Access to Broadband Internet on Partisan Affect. American Journal of Political Science, n/a-n/a. doi:10.1111/ajps.12237

Stroud, N. J. (2010). Polarization and Partisan Selective Exposure. Journal of Communication, 60(3), 556–576. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01497.x

Webster, J. G., & Ksiazek, T. B. (2012). The dynamics of audience fragmentation: Public attention in an age of digital media. Journal of Communication, 62(1), 39–56. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01616.x


Media and Politicisation of the EU- Trends and Potential Consequences

Europeanisation has been a well-researched topic in political science. The concept has mostly been used to investigate changes in policy-making, as well as administrative and institutional adaptation. Much less is known however, about how Europe is being politicised in public debates, by the media, citizens and party systems. Yet, the Eurozone crisis, which began in 2010 with the first Greek bailout, forces us to reconsider the conventional wisdom that “Europe” has little effect on national electoral politics. Even in countries where new parties have not acquired prominence, it seems that debates on Europe, and in particular on the Eurozone, as well as its consequences for national standards of living have become dominant news items, conditioning political debates among existing parties. The seminar will concentrate on presenting the state of the art of what is known on the politicisation of the EU via the media at the domestic level both before and after the Eurozone crisis. In presenting the state of the art of what is currently being studied on the topic since 2011, the goals of an ERC project which I am directing on the topic.

Reading list:

De Vreese, C. H., et al. “The news coverage of the 2004 European Parliamentary election campaign in 25 countries.” European Union Politics 7.4 (2006): 477-504.

Boomgaarden et al., 2010; De Vreese et al., 2006;

Koopmans and Statham, 2010; Statham and Trenz, 2013).

Boomgaarden, H., Rens Vliegenthart, Claes H. de Vreese &

Andreas R.T. Schuck (2010): News on the move: exogenous events and news coverage of the European Union, Journal of European Public Policy, 17:4, 506-526

Koopmans, Ruud, and Paul Statham, eds. The making of a European public sphere: Media discourse and political contention. Cambridge University Press, 2010.


From text mining to opinion mining over big data: theory and applications.

Abstract:  In the first part of the talk we give  a quick overview of different text mining techniques and opinion analysis tool with a particular focus on the big data framework. We then present in details iSA (integrate Sentiment Analysis), a technique designed to work over social media data characterized with low signal to noise ratio. In the second part we will show several case studies and applications of opinion analysis.


1) Ceron, A., Curini, L., Iacus, S.M., Porro, G. (2013) Every tweet counts? How sentiment analysis of social media can improve our knowledge of citizens political preferences with an application to Italy and France, New Media & Society, 16(2), 340–358. DOI 10.1177/ 1461444813480466.

2) Couper, M. (2013). Is the sky falling? new technology, changing media, and the future of surverys. Survey Research Methods, 7(3):145–156.

3) Iacus, S.M. (2014) Big Data or Big Fail? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and the missing role of Statistics, Electronic Journal of Applied Statistical Analysis: Decision Support Systems and Services Evaluation, 5(1), 4-11, DOI 10.1285/i2037-3627v5n1p4.

4) Lazer, D., Kennedy, R.,  King, G.,  Vespignani, A. (2014) The parable of Google Flu, Science 343(14).

Wednesday 20 July

What can we learn from research about audience trust in media?

Audience trust in media is a seemingly a very important perception, given the central role that trustworthiness and credibility play in journalistic professional ethics, practice and discourse. Despite this, this talk raises a few skeptical questions about audience trust in media. Can we really “trust” the media? What risks do people take when they trust the media? Is it merely some sort of political bias that affects people’s answers to survey questions about trust in media? How can people watch news they do not trust, and how is it possible that respondents who state they have little trust in media are still affected by media? Is audience trust in media at all related to the quality of news coverage? The talk reviews the conundrums that arise from the extant research about trust in media and argues that despite its shortcomings as a concept, news media trust still fulfills an important democratic function.


Ladd, J. M. (2012). Why Americans hate the media and how it matters? Princeton University Press.


Social media ‘citizenry’ and the digital public sphere in the EU

The new digital environment promotes citizen ‘disintermediation’ (the bypassing of intermediaries) from major social, political and institutional actors, thus challenging traditional ‘gatekeepers’ in the realms of information, public opinion, collective action, and political representation. As a result, the communication power balance seems to be shifting in favour of social media ‘citizenry’ in the emerging digital public sphere. Indeed, social networking sites have made it possible for citizens and civil society actors to claim independence from the mainstream media’s filtering/gatekeeping, agenda setting, and framing processes. Not only new forms of digitally networked offline action, but also online processes of opinion formation and expression characterize – in spite of objective tendencies to homophily, polarization, sarcasm, and verbal violence – this digital public space for political communication and discussion. This process seems to be particularly evident at the EU level. While a truly ‘pan-European’ public sphere is still lacking, the successive crises that the EU has been facing in recent years – Eurozone crisis, Greece’s debt crisis, refugee crisis – have made European national public spheres increasingly interconnected and focusing on relatively ‘Europeanized’ issues. Firstly, this lecture offers theoretical insights into changing dynamics of the public opinion process in the digital, yet ‘hybrid’ media environment; then, it presents different research methodologies and results regarding the relationship between social media and European politics.

Reading list:

Barisione, M. & Michailidou, A. 2016, Social Media and European Politics. Rethinking Power and Legitimacy in the Digital Era, Palgrave MacMillan (forthcoming)

Bennett, W. L., & Segerberg, A. 2012, The logic of connective action: Digital media and the personalization of contentious politics. Information, Communication & Society, 15(5), 739-768.

De Wilde, P., Michailidou, A. & Trenz, H.J. 2013, Contesting Europe, Colchester: ECPR Press.

Farrell, H. 2012, The consequences of the internet for politics. Annual Review of Political Science, 15, 35-52.

Statham, P. & Trenz, H.J. 2012, The politicization of Europe: contesting the constitution in the mass media, Routledge, London.

Thursday 21 July


Exposure and Expression in Networked Spheres: Rethinking the Nature of Communication Influence

Abstract: Measuring exposure and understanding communication influence in dynamic, saturated media environments is challenging and complex. These are context characterized by vast amount of messaging directed at audiences, where flows of messages are often countervailing, and information circulates though social media.  In such context, communication scholars must move beyond self-reports of exposure, given that individuals are hard-pressed to accurately estimate their “dosage.”  Instead, research must generate estimates of exposure based on algorithms that calculate the odds of contact, and begin to revise model of communication effects to account for social media expression. Three examples are used to illustrate this perspective: (1) a communication mediation model of political campaign effects on civic participation; (2) a study of expression and reception effects in online health support groups, and (3) an exploration of verbal, tonal, and visual debate features on the volume and valence of Twitter posts.

Reading list:

“Big Data, Computational Social Science, and Digital Media: Possibilities and Perils,” Dhavan V. Shah, Joseph Cappella, and W. Russell Neuman, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 659: 6-13, May 2015.

“Campaign Ads, Online Messaging, and Participation: Extending the Communication Mediation Model,” Dhavan V. Shah, Jaeho Cho, Seungahn Nah, Melissa R. Gotlieb, Hyunseo Hwang, Nam-Jin Lee, Rosanne M. Scholl, and Douglas M. McLeod, Journal of Communication, 57: 676-703, December, 2007.

“The Effects of Expression: How Providing Emotional Support Online Improves Cancer Patients Coping Strategies,” Kang Namkoong, Bryan McLaughlin, Woo Hyun Yoo, Shawnika Hull, Dhavan V. Shah, Sojung C. Kim, Tae Joon Moon, Courtney N. Johnson, Robert P. Hawkins, Fiona M. Mctavish, and David H. Gustafson, Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs, 47, 169–174, December 2013.

“Dual Screening During Presidential Debates: Political Nonverbals and the Volume and Valence of Online Expression, Dhavan V. Shah, Alex Hanna, Erik P. Bucy, David S. Lassen, Jack Van Thomme, Kristen Bialik, JungHwan Yang and Jon Pevehouse, American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming.


Social Media Social Capital, Offline Social Capital and Political Participation.  Exploring Asymmetrical Social Capital Effects

In pursue of a healthier and participatory democracy, scholars have long established the positive effects of social capital, values derived from resources embedded in social ties with others which characterize the structure of opportunity and action in communities. Building on this line of research, in this talk I will introduce social media social capital as a new theoretical and empirical construct to complement social capital face-to-face, as it also captures different nuances of values and resources in social connections.

It follows from this idea that social media social capital should exhibit different relationships with various forms of political engagement, including both online and offline participation. Based on a two-wave panel dataset collected in the United States, this study tests whether social capital in social media and offline settings are indeed two distinct empirical constructs. Then, the paper seeks to shed light on how these two modes of social capital may relate to political engagement online and off. Finally, the study also clarifies the relationship between the two social capital constructs in time. Results show that social media social capital is empirically distinct from social capital face-to-face. Additionally, the two constructs exhibit different patterns of effects over online and offline political participation. Finally, social media social capital more strongly predicts offline social capital over time than the other way around, showcasing a symbiotic, although asymmetrical relationship. In this talk I will also discuss the results in light of theoretical developments in the area of social capital and pro-democratic participatory behaviors, offering lines for future research and limitations to the study.

 Reading list:

Bode, L., Vraga, E. K., Borah, P., & Shah, D. V. (2014). A new space for political behavior: Political social networking and its democratic consequences. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication19(3), 414-429.

Boulianne, S. (2015). Social media use and participation: a meta-analysis of current research. Information, Communication & Society18(5), 524-538.

Gil de Zúñiga, H., Jung, N., & Valenzuela, S. (2012). Social media use for news and individuals’ social capital, civic engagement and political participation. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication17(3), 319-336.

Hampton, K. N., Lee, C. J., & Her, E. J. (2011). How new media affords network diversity: Direct and mediated access to social capital through participation in local social settings. New Media & Society, 1461444810390342.

Wohn, D. Y., Ellison, N. B., Khan, M. L., Fewins-Bliss, R., & Gray, R. (2013). The role of social media in shaping first-generation high school students’ college aspirations: A social capital lens. Computers & Education63, 424-436.

Zhang, W., & Chia, S. C. (2006). The effects of mass media use and social capital on civic and political participation. Communication Studies57(3), 277-297.

Friday 22 July

Is Media Populism Conducive to Political Populism?  A Comparative Perspective

Media populism means the outcome of the close connection between media-originated dynamics and the rise of populist sentiments, and eventually of populist movements. The increasing commercialization of the news industry has intensified the media’s natural search for mass audiences, and their craving for sensationalism, scandal, and conflict. This inclination of media populism works in complicity with the political aspirations of populist leaders, movements and parties whose rise is facilitated by the sheer implementation of news routines. Although this interaction between media populism and political populism is often accidental, some news outlets have openly and intentionally voiced people’s discontent with the purpose of generating support for populism.

Also the new media, especially the social networks, appear to be channels conveying anti-politic, anti-immigration, anti-Europe sentiments that can eventually turn into powerful amplifiers of populist message.

Reading list:

Mazzoleni, G.  (2014), Mediatization and Political Populism. In F. Esser and J. Strömbäck, (Eds.).  Mediatization of Politics: Understanding the Transformation of Western Democracies. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan (pp. 42-56).

Mazzoleni, G. (2008), Populism and the media. In D. Albertazzi, & D. McDonnell (Eds.), Twenty-first century populism – The spectre of Western European democracy. London: Palgrave (pp. 49-64).

Mazzoleni, G. (2006), The Concept of Media Populism. In: F. Marcinkowski, W.A. Meier, J.Trappel. Medien und Demokratie. BERN: Haupt (pp. 183-192).

Mazzoleni, G. (2008), Mediated Populism. In the International Encyclopedia of Communication, edited by Wolfgang Donsbach, Blackwell, Malden, MA, (pp.3031-3033


General Election Campaigns in Europe: Reflections on Their ‘Manifest’ and ‘Latent’ Functions

Starting with a conceptual and methodological discussion of the notion of campaign effects (that will also give attention to new media as an element of contemporary campaigning) the lecture will introduce the (Mertonian) distinction between ‘manifest’ and ‘latent’ functions that election campaigns may fulfill in the electoral process. It directs attention to the fact that in the most general sense election campaigns are waged by parties or candidates with the aim to gain votes – a goal that provides a yardstick against which their effectiveness can be evaluated. However, there may also be unintentional side effects that are not on campaigners’ minds, but nonetheless are substantial and have important implications for the quality of the electoral process and democracy more generally. The Lecture will then discuss the state of research on the ‘manifest’ function of campaigns at national elections – influencing vote choices and attitudes immediately relevant for vote choices. Special attention will be accorded to assessing the state of European research on campaign effects in comparison to the highly advanced state of research conducted at US Presidential Elections. In the third section the talk will turn to ‘latent’ functions of election campaigns, presenting findings from recent analyses on how campaigns matter for the quality of electoral choices at German Federal Elections.

Reading list:

Banducci, Susan A., and Jeffrey A. Karp (2003). How Elections Change the Way Citizens View the Political System: Campaigns, Media Effects and Electoral Outcomes in Comparative Perspective. British Journal of Political Science 33:443-467.

Jacobson, Gary C. (2015). How Do Campaigns Matter? Annual Review of Political Science 18:31-47.

Schmitt-Beck, Rüdiger (2007). New Modes of Campaigning. In: Russell J. Dalton/Hans-Dieter Klingemann (Eds.). Oxford Handbook on Political Behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press (744-764).

Schmitt-Beck, Rüdiger, and David Farrell (2002). Studying political campaigns and their effects. In: David Farrell and Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck (Eds.). Do Political Campaigns Matter? Campaign Effects in Elections and Referendums. London/New York: Routledge (1-21).

Wlezien, Christopher (2014). Election Campaigns. In: Lawrence LeDuc, Richard G. Niemi and Pippa Norris (Eds.). Comparing Democracies 4. Elections and Voting in a Changing World, Los Angeles et al: Sage (76-95).

Saturday 23 July

Workshop: Publishing in Refereed Journals