European Public Sphere| Discussing the Democratic Deficit: Effects of Media and Interpersonal Communication on Satisfaction with Democracy in the European Union

Pieterjan Desmet, Joost van Spanje, Claes de Vreese


The perception of a democratic deficit in the European Union (EU) is widespread. In which circumstances is this perception affected by mass media and interpersonal communication? To answer this question, we analyze data from representative samples of citizens in 21 EU member states (N = 22,806) and linked to news items (N = 36,881) these citizens were exposed to in the 2009 European election campaign. Our results indicate that theoretically expected interpersonal communication effects exist in all countries. We find media effects in countries with a one-sided message flow that is positive about EU democratic performance. In these countries, the media have a positive effect on EU democratic performance perceptions, and the effect is larger among less sophisticated citizens. Negative interpersonal communication effects are stronger among sophisticated citizens. Furthermore, among less sophisticated citizens, we find a positive reinforcement effect of mass media and interpersonal communication. These findings suggest that the EU has more possibilities to positively affect public opinion than has been assumed.


democratic deficit, media effects, interpersonal communication, reinforcement, satisfaction with democracy

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