Migration, Media, and the Public: Unpacking media effects on public beliefs about immigration and attitudes towards immigrants and refugees

Persons in Charge:   Jens Wolling / Maija Ozola / Christina Schumann

Project Period:         1990 until today

Immigration is one of the most divisive and reoccurring issues debated in developed democracies. Given the increasing levels of migrant population and high levels of anti-immigration sentiment in many European countries, the focus of the EMPK research group is on the role of the media in the formation and development of public opinion about immigrants and refugees, as well as the consequences it brings for the political processes. Two projects are currently in progress: first, the refugee topic is investigated in the German context, and the second perspective deals with the broader perspective of migration issue in the international domain.

Media use, content perception and attitudes towards refugees

We employed a four-wave panel survey (2016-2020) 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.

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 intergroup relations play out across 19 European countries. Considering the media environment as a contextual variable, we find significant differences in attitudes across different media systems in Europe. A clear trend can be observed, the higher the quality of media landscape the more positive are the attitudes. Another study investigates the effects of mere exposure on immigration attitudes in six European countries. We find that mere presence of news related to immigration topic leads to increased pro-immigration attitudes. However, these vary depending on individuals’ cognitive skills and motivation to process political information as well as their political ideology. 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 semi-automated content analysis. 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

Earlier research of EMPK explored the interplay between media coverage on immigration and election results. 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.