Migration, the media and the public: The impact of the media on public opinion about immigration and attitudes towards migrants and refugees

Responsible persons: Jens Wolling / Maija Ozola-Schade

Project duration: 1990 - current

Immigration is one of the most frequently discussed and controversial issues in developed democracies.In view of the increasing number of migrants and the strong anti-immigration sentiment in many European countries, the EMPK research group focuses on the role of the media in the formation and development of public opinion towards migrants and refugees and the consequences this has for political processes. Two projects are currently underway: One examines the refugee issue in the German context and the other examines the international perspective of the migration issue.

Media use, media perception and attitudes towards refugees

We used a panel study with four waves of data collection (2016-2020) to investigate media perception, media evaluation, media effects and attitude formation processes in the context of the refugee issue in Germany after 2015. A wide range of communication channels were analyzed, including mainstream media, social media, and interpersonal communication. In our study, we found convincing evidence for the effects of negative attitudes on hostile media perceptions, while positive attitudes showed smaller effects. In another study, we identified three different types of information users on 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 of media coverage of the topic.Similarly, in another study, we developed a typology for the relationship between attitudes and behavior on the topic of refugees and compared the importance of mainstream media and social media between the identified population groups. Finally, we investigated the occurrence of political disenchantment with the refugee issue in the German population and its relationship with topic-specific media use, trust in news media and topic fatigue.

Immigration in Europe: Media impact on attitudes towards immigration

This research takes a longitudinal and cross-national perspective to examine the impact of the media on the European population's perceptions and attitudes towards immigration. A secondary analysis of data from the European Social Survey (ESS) is used to explore the impact of group relations in 19 European countries. Taking into account the media environment as a context variable, significant differences between the various media systems in Europe emerge. A clear trend is discernible: the higher the quality of the media environment, the more positive the attitudes towards immigration. Another study examines the effects of media priming on attitudes towards immigration in six European countries. The results show that more extensive media coverage correlates with more positive attitudes towards immigration. However, this correlation is significantly weaker among politically right-wing groups and only slightly stronger among politically left-wing groups. These results illustrate that the media can activate existing beliefs about immigration. For future work, a longitudinal content analysis of national news media on immigration in six European countries is planned, using semi-automated content analysis. This data will be combined with survey data from the ESS to examine the macro-level impact of the media on perceptions and attitudes towards immigration.

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

Previous EMPK research has examined the relationship between media coverage of immigration and election results. In the 1989 elections to the Berlin House of Representatives, the right-wing party, the Republicans, unexpectedly received 7.5% of the vote. This electoral success was the impetus for a study that investigated which factors could be responsible for this. The combination of polling data and content analysis showed that the way migration was portrayed in the media - an issue largely ignored by the established parties - was a plausible explanation for the Republicans' success.