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Melanie Waltinger


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Migration and Refuge

Persons in Charge: Jens Wolling / Maija Ozola / Christina Schumann
Project Period: 1990 until today

This area of research examines the role of the media in the formation and development of public opinion about immigrants in general and refugees in particular, as well as the consequences it brings for the political process. Two projects are currently in progress: The refugee topic is investigated in the German context, while the broader migration issue is analyzed in an international domain.

In the first project, we focus on the interplay between attitudes towards refugees, issue-related media use, and the perception of the respective media content. The second project explores the premise of macro-level effects on attitudes towards immigration in a cross-national perspective. In an early study, it was investigated how the depiction of migrants in the local media influenced the outcome of a right-wing party (Republikaner) in the elections to the Berlin House of Representatives.

Media use, content perception and attitudes towards refugees

Media use, content perception and attitudes towards refugees

We employed a five-wave panel survey to investigate media perceptions, media evaluation, media effects, and attitude formation processes in the context of the refugee issue in Germany after 2015. A broad range of communication channels was analyzed, including mainstream media, social media, and interpersonal communication. In our research, we found strong evidence for effects of negative attitudes on hostile media perceptions, while positive attitudes showed lower effects. In another study, we identified three different types of information users about the refugee debate in the German population and compared these groups in terms of their attitudes towards refugees and refugee policy, as well as their expectations how the media should cover the issue. Similarly, a subsequent study developed a typology for attitude-behavior nexus concerning the refugee issue and compared the importance of mainstream and social media between the detected segments of the population. The latest study investigated the occurrence of policy malaise regarding the refugee issue among the German population, and its relation to issue-specific media use, trust in news media, and topic fatigue.

Arlt, Dorothee, Schumann, Christina & Wolling, Jens (2020): Upset with the Refugee Policy: Exploring the Relations among Policy Malaise, Media Use, Trust in News Media, and Topic Fatigue. In: Communications - The European Journal of Communication Research. Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2018): Bias Wanted. Examining people’s information exposure, quality expectations and bias perceptions in the context of the refugees debate among different segments of the German population.
In: Communications - The European Journal of Communication Research. doi:

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2017): Die Flüchtlingsdebatte in den Medien aus der Perspektive der Bevölkerung. Veränderungen von Nutzungsmustern, Erwartungen, Bewertungen und Einstellungen zwischen 2016 und 2017. In: Media Perspektiven (6), 325-337

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2016): The Refugees: Threatening or Beneficial? Exploring the Effects of Positive and Negative Attitudes and Communication on Hostile Media Perceptions. In: Global Media Journal. German Edition, 6 (1), 1-21.

Immigration in Europe: The role of media in shaping attitudes towards immigration

Immigration in Europe: The role of media in shaping attitudes towards immigration

The research applies a longitudinal, cross-national perspective to study media effects on European beliefs and attitudes toward immigration. Through means of a secondary analysis of data from the European Social Survey (ESS), it is investigated how attitudes vary across 19 European countries with different types of media systems and quality assesments of national media landscapes. A second study investigates if mere exposure effects can explain attitudes towards immigration considering cognitive mobilization, and political affiliation as mediators in four European countries. For future work, it is planned to carry out a longitudinal content analysis of national news media on the topic of immigration in six European countries by applying a supervised machine learning technique. This data will be combined with the survey data from the ESS to study macro-level media effects on beliefs about immigration and attitudes towards immigration. Publications are forthcoming. 

Media coverage on migrants and the success of right-wing parties

Media coverage on migrants and the success of right-wing parties

In the elections to the Berlin House of Representatives in 1989, the right-wing party (Republikaner) got 7.5 % of the votes. This unexpected election success was the reason for a study that investigated which factors could explain this gain. The combination of survey data and content analysis data showed that the portrayal of the migration issue in the media, which had received little attention from the established parties, provided a plausible explanation.

Publications Friedrichsen, Mike; Schulz, Wolfram & Wolling, Jens (1995): Die Republikaner als Medienereignis. Eine Analyse zum Zusammenhang zwischen Medienaufmerksamkeit und Rechtsextremismus am Beispiel des Wahlkampfs zur Abgeordnetenhauswahl in Berlin 1989. In: Publizistik 40 (2): 129-151.