Widening or Closing the Knowledge Gap?

The Role of TV and Newspapers in Changing the Distribution of Political Knowledge

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The public has gradually become more dependent on the mass media for their political information as alternative channels of political communication have been marginalized. Political knowledge is not equally distributed, and according to the knowledge gap hypothesis, the gap between the most and least knowledgeable is likely to widen due to the pattern of media consumption, the different content of printed media and TV, and the abilities of the audience as linked to educational differences. Most of the empirical research on the knowledge gap hypothesis has been done in the USA, a media system very different from those of the Nordic countries. The strong tradition of PB TV and the high rate of newspaper consumption make the Norwegian media environment favourable for political knowledge gain, but it may, for the very same reasons, lead to a widening knowledge gap, according to the knowledge gap hypothesis. In the present paper, the impacts of TV and newspaper consumption on the distribution of political knowledge are studied. Two hypotheses are tested: TV exposure as leveller and newspapers exposure as enhancer of the knowledge gap. The empirical analyses are based on the 1997, 2001 and 2005 Norwegian election studies.

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