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Populist Attitudes and Selective Exposure to Online News: A Cross-Country Analysis Combining Web Tracking and Surveys

  • Stier, Sebastian
  • Kirkizh, Nora
  • Froio, Caterina
Publication Date
Mar 01, 2020
Kaleidoscope Open Archive
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Research has shown that citizens with populist attitudes evaluate the news media more negatively, and there is also suggestive evidence that they rely less on established news sources like the legacy press. However, due to data limitations, there is still no solid evidence whether populist citizens have skewed news diets in the contemporary high-choice digital media environment. In this paper, we rely on the selective exposure framework and investigate the relationship between populist attitudes and the consumption of various types of online news. To test our theoretical assumptions, we link 150 million Web site visits by 7,729 Internet users in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States to their responses in an online survey. This design allows us to measure media exposure more precisely than previous studies while linking these data to demographic attributes and political attitudes of participants. The results show that populist attitudes leave pronounced marks in people’s news diets, but the evidence is heterogeneous and highly contingent on the supply side of a country’s media system. Most importantly, citizens with populist attitudes visit less Web sites from the legacy press, while consuming more hyperpartisan news. Despite these tendencies, the Web tracking data show that populist citizens still primarily get their news from established sources. We discuss the implications of these results for the current state of public spheres in democracies.

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