Media Use and Misperceptions

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There is considerable evidence that many people generally misperceive the size of the immigrant population in their country, and that this may have essential political implications. In studies of political knowledge, the news media are typically said to be one important source of information that can help make people more knowledgeable. In the present article, we investigate whether there is a relationship between TV viewing, media system variations and knowledge about immigration. We base our analysis on highly comparable data from the 2002-2003 wave of the European Social Survey (ESS) and an American replication of the ESS. The results indicate that TV viewing in general is associated with lower levels of knowledge, while there is a positive but non-significant relationship between watching TV news and knowledge about immigration. Differences in the levels of knowledge between the countries are fairly large, with residents of Nordic countries being most knowledgeable and residents of the UK, US and France tending to be least knowledgeable. Aggregate explanations for variations in media influence (share of public service TV and “media systems”) do not prove to be of much value in explaining differences in knowledge about the sizes of immigrant populations.

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