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25 March 2014

How Young People’s Media Use Relates to Their Political Trust and Engagement

Keywords: media, radio, survey, teens, Eastern Europe & Russia, Western Europe, political participation, television,

Many politicians wonder whether young people’s media use relates to their political trust and engagement. An European Journal of Communication study shows it does. It turns out that European teens who frequently consume entertainment media show less trust in politics and less political engagement. Surprisingly, exposure to news media does not relate to teens’ political trust or engagement. However, this changes when they grow into adults.

Take aways

  • European teens who frequently consume entertainment media, experience less trust in politics and are less politically engaged (inclined to boycott products for political reasons or sign political petitions).
  • News media consumption is not related to teens’ political engagement and trust. 
  • However, this changes when teens grow older: (young) adults (>20 years) who frequently use news media show more political engagement, but less political trust, indicating differences in the way adults respond to news media compared to teens. 
  • For politicians and political educators it’s important to be aware of the negative influence entertainment media may have on teens’ political distrust and engagement, as well as at the positive influence news media can have on political engagement when they grow older.

Study information

  • The question?

    Does media use influences European teens’ political trust and engagement?

  • Who?

    5657 14- to 20-year olds and 94,454 adults aged 21 and older (from 23 different European countries)

  • Where?

    23 European countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and UK)

  • How?

    This study used the data from the European Social Survey (the first 3 rounds: 2002, 2004, and 2006). In this survey, teens were asked about their political engagement (whether they signed a petition or boycotted a product for political reasons in the past 12 months), and their political trust (trust in the national parliament, the legal system, the police, politicians and political parties). Their exposure to news media (i.e., number of hours spent on an average weekday reading newspapers, watching TV news or listening to political information on the radio) and entertainment media (i.e., amount of time spent with other types of media rather than news) was measured as well. 

Facts and findings

  • Exposure to entertainment media was negatively related to teens’ feeling of political trust and engagement across all 23 European countries. Teens who spent more time with media other than news media: 
    • had less trust in politics;
    • were less likely to boycott products for political reasons or sign political petitions. 
  • Exposure to news media was not related to teens’ political trust or engagement. 
  • In contrast, for adults (older than 20 years), there was a positive relation between exposure to news media and their political engagement. Adults who spent more time on reading, watching or listening to news media were more inclined to boycott products for political reasons or sign political petitions.
  • However, adults who spent more time using news media had less trust in politics. 
  • This suggests that the impact of news media on political trust and engagement are more pronounced for adults than for teens. 
  • Remarkable fact: Youth who lived in countries with a lower quality of democracy were less likely to be politically engaged. 
  • Critical note: Exposure to entertainment media was measured by subtracting the exposure to news media from general media. Therefore, the real nature of this entertainment remains unclear. 
  • Critical note: This study does not allow for any conclusions about cause (e.g., entertainment media exposure) and effect (e.g., teens’ political trust and engagement). The results only show that higher exposure to entertainment media is associated with less political trust and engagement and cannot say anything about what causes what.