The role of mass media in shaping public opinion and voter behavior

Authored by: Susan Banducci

The Routledge Handbook of Elections, Voting Behaviorand Public Opinion

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138890404
eBook ISBN: 9781315712390
Adobe ISBN:


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A necessary condition for democracy to function properly is that information is available that allows citizens to make decisions and behave in a manner that maintains accountability and popular sovereignty (Key 1966). Most theories of democracy share a minimal condition that citizens are informed about the candidates or policy proposals presented to them (see, for example, Dryzek 2000; Schumpeter 1950). Delli Carpini and Keeter (1996: 8) write that “Political information is to democratic politics what money is to economics: it is the currency of citizenship.” Despite competition from social media, the traditional mass media (television and newspapers) play a privileged role in informing citizens through their provision of news and current affairs programming. Contemporary developments in media and political structures, such as the expansion of commercial broadcasting and weakening of political parties and social ties, further elevate the supply of quality information as an indicator of the strength of electoral democracy. As the dominant source of political information for citizens, there seems to be little question that the media matter as providers of information in politics in general and in elections in particular. But another aspect to this relationship is whether media influence political attitudes and behavior, and here researchers have been hard pressed to build a conclusive body of evidence that demonstrates media effects.

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