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Journal ArticleDOI

Pathway to Political Participation: The Influence of Online and Offline News Media on Internal Efficacy and Turnout of First-Time Voters

01 May 2014-American Behavioral Scientist (SAGE Publications)-Vol. 58, Iss: 5, pp 689-700
TL;DR: This paper analyzed the impact of online and offline news media use on the growth in internal efficacy among adolescents, based on data collected in a three-wave panel survey in the Netherlands (N = 729).
Abstract: News media play a key role in informing young citizens about politics and cultivating a sense of political efficacy. Online news media, in particular, are expected to have a positive impact due to their interactivity and new opportunities to share and discuss information. This study analyzes the impact of online and offline news media use on the growth in internal efficacy among adolescents, based on data we collected in a three-wave panel survey in the Netherlands (N = 729). Additionally, we test the impact of internal efficacy on turnout using a fourth wave of the same sample (N = 612). The results show that while newspaper reading has the strongest effects among traditional news sources, actively participating in the communication process of political information online has the strongest impact on internal efficacy. Internal efficacy in turn is found to be a significant predictor of first-time voters. The article concludes with a discussion of media use as a pathway to political participation through internal political efficacy.

Summary (3 min read)

Keywords

  • Political participation, online media, offline media, first time voters Moreover, in many European countries access to the Internet for this generation is almost universal.
  • Most of these studies are based on cross-sectional data or small scale experimental research.
  • Finally, the authors provide evidence that internal political efficacy has a strong impact on electoral participation in the same sample, arriving at a comprehensive analysis of the pathway from adolescent news media use to political participation.

Digital Natives and Internal Political Efficacy

  • It is a personality trait acquired early in life and influences the degree to which citizens participate in politics throughout their lives.
  • By watching news on TV and reading about the political world in daily newspapers, adolescents familiarize themselves with political actors and processes and build political knowledge (Delli Carpini, 2000; Shah, McLeod, & Lee, 2009).
  • To the youngest generation, who is familiar with the social character of information on the Internet, a news item is more than an event shown on the media, it is something that can be shared, forwarded, commented on, or remixed (Coleman, 2008).
  • This might be a consequence of limited interest in online participatory media among adolescents (Bakker, 2013) and the countless opportunities to select information that is welcome and even personalize news sources in a way to avoid unwanted news.

Hypotheses and Analytical Model

  • In order to study effects of news media on internal political efficacy and participation, it is important to take into account all aspects relevant to the process.
  • News use has a positive effect on internal efficacy, also known as Hypothesis 1.
  • In the latter case a much stronger effect is to be expected as the communicative process inspires information processing and taking a stance on political issues, thereby empowering young citizens (Tedesco, 2007).
  • According to the communication mediation model by Shah, Cho, Eveland, and Kwak (2005), these effects could even fully mediate effects of online political information sources.
  • Civic messaging has a positive effect on internal efficacy, also known as Hypothesis 2.

Internal Efficacy as a Driver of Political Participation

  • A decrease in electoral political participation among the youngest generation has raised concerns both in the scientific and political world.
  • Though the United States has witnessed a recent increase in turnout among the youngest voters, the general trend is toward diminishing participation.
  • In Europe, the past few elections were characterized by an increasing abstinence of young citizens from the ballots.
  • Especially the youngest generation feels that they lack the competence and knowledge to make an electoral decision.
  • Internal efficacy has a positive influence on the likelihood to turn out at the first elections, also known as Hypothesis 3.

Sample

  • The sample was drawn from a population representative database administered by a Dutch opinion poll institute, GfK, using a light quota sample.
  • Panel attrition did not lead to a significant change in the composition of the panel with regard to key demographic variables of age, gender, and education.

Measures

  • Three different modes of news use are included in the model explaining internal efficacy: TV news use, newspaper use, and Internet news sources.
  • All items concerning news use are measured as exposure to a specific news outlet in days per week (1 to 7).
  • It has been a standard item in the internal efficacy scales used in the American National Election for decades (Niemi et al., 1991) and is also used as a single-item indicator in large scale surveys like the European Social Study or the Norwegian election study.
  • Age, gender, and formal education were added to the model as control variables.

Analysis

  • To make optimal use of the panel data, the authors rely on random effects generalized least square estimation because it is the most efficient form estimation and provides the opportunity to control for relevant background factors.
  • To ensure the reliability of the analysis, a Hausman test was carried out that yielded no significant differences between fixed and random effects model (p > .01).
  • This approach forecloses to test a full model of media use, internal efficacy, and turnout, as the latter variable is only measured once.
  • The authors therefore test the effect of internal efficacy on turnout using a minimal, parsimonious model.

Results

  • Table 1 presents the results of the panel data regression analysis explaining change in internal political efficacy.
  • TV news use has no significant impact on the dependent variable, whereas the usage of online news sources is predicted to have a slightly significant effect on internal political efficacy.
  • This effect disappears once civic messaging is added to the model (Model 2), implying that active online political communication mediates the effect of political information obtained online.
  • The authors analysis therefore supports the proposition of Hypothesis 2.
  • Turning to the effect of internal efficacy on the likelihood to participate in the first elections, the authors find strong support for Hypothesis 3 in their data (Table 2).

Discussion

  • The authors analyzed how news use and civic messaging can contribute to the growth of internal efficacy in a period that is crucial for the development of political skills, namely, the 2 years leading up to the first general election.
  • This allows us to compare the influence of the different sources and reliably attribute effects to the correct source.
  • Whether or not news use contributes to internal political efficacy depends on (a) the type of medium in which political information is presented and (b) the level of involvement.
  • The authors analysis provides a partial answer to this question.
  • This is under the condition that they assume an active role in the communication process.

Predictor B SE B

  • Less than 15% of their sample has ever engaged in civic messaging.
  • On the other hand, these results also indicate that European adolescents are not as “tuned out” as their American counterparts (Mindich, 2005).
  • As political involvement in the first elections has a strong socializing effect (Sears & Valentino, 1997) and predetermines political engagement throughout the life course, it becomes apparent why understanding the pathway to political participation is so important.
  • On the other hand, panel data provide the unique opportunity to study change in a dependent variable rather than a status at a specific point in time.

Note

  • A model based on an inclusive list of control variables (political interest, social economic status, parental education, mobilization through others, and general media use) was also estimated and yielded no different results with regard to significance level and size of the effect.
  • These control variables were measured during the third wave 3 months prior to the elections.

Author Biographies

  • Frank Esser is professor of international and comparative media research at University Zurich.
  • Ruth Kunz is a post graduate researcher at the University Zurich. at Universiteit van Amsterdam on March 24, 2015abs.sagepub.comDownloaded from.

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Pathway to political participation: the influence of online and offline news media
on internal efficacy and turnout of first-time voters
Moeller, J.; de Vreese, C.; Esser, F; Kunz, R.
DOI
10.1177/0002764213515220
Publication date
2014
Document Version
Final published version
Published in
American Behavioral Scientist
License
Article 25fa Dutch Copyright Act
Link to publication
Citation for published version (APA):
Moeller, J., de Vreese, C., Esser, F., & Kunz, R. (2014). Pathway to political participation: the
influence of online and offline news media on internal efficacy and turnout of first-time voters.
American Behavioral Scientist
,
58
(5), 689-700. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764213515220
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Download date:10 Aug 2022

American Behavioral Scientist
2014, Vol. 58(5) 689 –700
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DOI: 10.1177/0002764213515220
abs.sagepub.com
Article
Pathway to Political
Participation: The Influence
of Online and Offline News
Media on Internal Efficacy and
Turnout of First-Time Voters
Judith Moeller
1
, Claes de Vreese
1
, Frank Esser
2
, and
Ruth Kunz
2
Abstract
News media play a key role in informing young citizens about politics and cultivating
a sense of political efficacy. Online news media, in particular, are expected to have a
positive impact due to their interactivity and new opportunities to share and discuss
information. This study analyzes the impact of online and offline news media use
on the growth in internal efficacy among adolescents, based on data we collected
in a three-wave panel survey in the Netherlands (N = 729). Additionally, we test
the impact of internal efficacy on turnout using a fourth wave of the same sample
(N = 612). The results show that while newspaper reading has the strongest effects
among traditional news sources, actively participating in the communication process
of political information online has the strongest impact on internal efficacy. Internal
efficacy in turn is found to be a significant predictor of first-time voters. The article
concludes with a discussion of media use as a pathway to political participation
through internal political efficacy.
Keywords
political participation, online media, offline media, first time voters
To many teenagers and adolescents the political world appears to be a very complicated
place. So complicated, in fact, that they have the impression that they are not qualified
1
University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
2
Zurich University, Zurich, Switzerland
Corresponding Author:
Judith Moeller, Kloveniersburgwal 48, 1012 CX Amsterdam.
Email: J.E.Moller1@uva.nl
515220ABSXXX10.1177/0002764213515220American Behavioral ScientistMoeller et al.
research-article2013
at Universiteit van Amsterdam on March 24, 2015abs.sagepub.comDownloaded from

690 American Behavioral Scientist 58(5)
or competent enough to participate in it. The decrease of internal political efficacy
among the youngest generation is often seen as a serious threat for democracy (Kaid,
McKinney, & Tedesco, 2007). Social scientists have therefore devoted a considerable
amount of work to gain insight into how adolescents can learn about politics in order to
feel competent enough to turn out and vote (Beaumont, 2010; Delli Carpini, 2000).
In the discussion about potential solutions to the problem, media, in particular new
media, play a key role as they can provide relevant information about political actors
and processes and foster to the political understanding of their users. After all, citizens
of the youngest generation are the first digital natives and have ample skills to search,
read, react to, and create political messages on the Internet. Moreover, in many European
countries access to the Internet for this generation is almost universal. In the Netherlands,
for example, 95% of 15- to 25-year-olds use the Internet on a daily basis (Dutch Office
of Statistics [CBS], 2013).
There is some empirical evidence that indicates that Internet use, internal political
efficacy, political participation, and turnout of adolescents are indeed connected
(Kushin & Yamamoto, 2010; Quintelier & Vissers, 2008). However, most of these
studies are based on cross-sectional data or small scale experimental research. This
article adds to the existing research in two ways. First, by relying on panel survey data
we collected over the course of 2 years, we do not investigate the level of internal
efficacy at a fixed point in time but rather, the change in the dependent variable over
time and its potential causes. This way, our study answers a recent call for a longitudi-
nal perspective on the phenomenon (Weaver Lariscy, Tinkham, & Sweetser, 2011).
Second, we do not look at the Internet as an isolated source of information. Instead,
this study includes classic information sources, such as newspapers and TV news as
well as new media sources of information, to find out which of these sources contribute
to the development internal efficacy. By providing an integrated analytical model of a
typical political information diet of an adolescent and its effect on internal political
efficacy, we also contribute to the academic debate on sources of political efficacy in a
theoretical way. Finally, we provide evidence that internal political efficacy has a strong
impact on electoral participation in the same sample, arriving at a comprehensive anal-
ysis of the pathway from adolescent news media use to political participation.
Digital Natives and Internal Political Efficacy
Political efficacy is at the core of beliefs and values needed to participate in a demo-
cratic society. It is a personality trait acquired early in life and influences the degree to
which citizens participate in politics throughout their lives. Therefore, determinants
and mechanisms leading to the development of “the feeling that political and social
change is possible, and that the individual citizen can play a part in bringing about the
change” (Campbell, Gurin, & Miller, 1971, p. 187) have been the focus of research for
the past 60 years in political science and psychology alike (Beaumont, 2010). The
concept can be distinguished into two dimensions: external efficacy, which is primar-
ily dealing with the “responsiveness of governmental authorities and institutions to
citizens’ demands” (Niemi, Craig, & Mattei, 1991, p. 1408), and internal efficacy,
defined as beliefs about one’s own competence to understand and to
at Universiteit van Amsterdam on March 24, 2015abs.sagepub.comDownloaded from

Moeller et al. 691
participate effectively in politics” (Niemi et al., 1991, p. 1408). Closely related to the
latter dimension is information efficacy, a concept put forward by Kaid and colleagues
(2007) that describes citizen voters’ confidence in their own political knowledge.
Mass media, in particular newspapers, have been found to play an important role in
the development of political efficacy among young citizens in the past (Chaffee &
Kanihan, 1997). By watching news on TV and reading about the political world in
daily newspapers, adolescents familiarize themselves with political actors and pro-
cesses and build political knowledge (Delli Carpini, 2000; Shah, McLeod, & Lee,
2009). Over the course of years they become increasingly confident about their skills
to participate in politics and reach sufficient levels of political efficacy.
However, political information in the mass media does not reach a large share of the
youngest cohort anymore. According to some scholars, declining numbers in newspaper
readership among young readers, decreasing interest in TV news (Huang, 2009), and
dramatic gaps in political knowledge (Kaid et al., 2007) are symptoms of the same dis-
ease. The youngest generation—in the words of Mindich (2005)—is “tuned out” from
the traditional news.
Others argue that adolescents have not tuned out but found a new arena of political
information: the Internet. This is not simply a shift of information source; political
information on the Internet can be a completely different experience due to its social
(Bennett, 2008) and interactive (Tedesco, 2007) quality. To the youngest generation,
who is familiar with the social character of information on the Internet, a news item is
more than an event shown on the media, it is something that can be shared, forwarded,
commented on, or remixed (Coleman, 2008).
In the context of explaining growth in internal political efficacy this is an important
notion. Previous studies have shown that talking about political events encountered in
the news is a much better predictor on outcome variables of political involvement than
mere exposure to the news (Shah et al., 2009). This is due to the way adolescents pro-
cess political information. During conversations about abstract political processes
with peers, parents, or teachers, they make sense of what happened and encounter
potential interpretations of the events. Of course, events reported in traditional news
media can spark political discussions as well, but on the Internet, a political debate is
more accessible. Articles usually allow readers to comment and engage in a debate
with other readers, they can be shared on a social network site (SNS) with minimal
effort, and hyperlinks provide the opportunity to either find out more about the subject
or even participate online, for example, by signing an online discussion. Moreover,
conversations can be started without the need to be at the same place at the same time.
Finally, to the youngest cohorts, who spend a significant share of the day on social
media, sharing and talking online about something they have encountered is a standard
way to deal with information (Weaver Lariscy et al., 2011).
However, despite growing empirical support for the causal mechanism connecting
use of online political information and internal efficacy (Bakker & de Vreese, 2011;
Lee, Shah, & McLeod, 2012; Tedesco, 2007), the positive effects on adolescents are
still hard to trace on a large scale in the field (Boulianne, 2009; Esser & de Vreese,
2007). If effects of political communication are found, other sources of information
at Universiteit van Amsterdam on March 24, 2015abs.sagepub.comDownloaded from

692 American Behavioral Scientist 58(5)
like newspapers and TV were omitted from the model and the effects are rather small
(e.g., Kenski & Stroud, 2006). This might be a consequence of limited interest in
political online participatory media among adolescents (Bakker, 2013) and the count-
less opportunities to select information that is welcome and even personalize news
sources in a way to avoid unwanted (political) news.
Hypotheses and Analytical Model
In order to study effects of news media on internal political efficacy and participation,
it is important to take into account all aspects relevant to the process. An integrated
model should include measures of usage of traditional sources of political information,
TV news and newspapers, as well as online sources of political information.
Hypothesis 1: News use has a positive effect on internal efficacy.
Hypothesis 1a: Use of TV news has a positive effect on internal efficacy.
Hypothesis 1b: Use of newspapers has a positive effect on internal efficacy.
Hypothesis 1c: Use of online news sources has a positive effect on internal
efficacy.
Moreover, we need to not merely include a measure of Internet usage, but differentiate
what it means: simply reading an article or actively engaging in a political discussion
by forwarding or commenting on it (civic messaging) (see also Bakker & de Vreese,
2011). In the latter case a much stronger effect is to be expected as the communicative
process inspires information processing and taking a stance on political issues, thereby
empowering young citizens (Tedesco, 2007). According to the communication media-
tion model by Shah, Cho, Eveland, and Kwak (2005), these effects could even fully
mediate effects of online political information sources.
Hypothesis 2: Civic messaging has a positive effect on internal efficacy.
Internal Efficacy as a Driver of Political Participation
A decrease in electoral political participation among the youngest generation has
raised concerns both in the scientific and political world. Though the United States has
witnessed a recent increase in turnout among the youngest voters, the general trend is
toward diminishing participation. In Europe, the past few elections were characterized
by an increasing abstinence of young citizens from the ballots. In the Netherlands the
turnout rate among voters younger than 25 has dropped by over 20% in the past three
elections (Dutch Office of Statistics, 2013).
According to the research of Kaid and colleagues (2007), this can be attributed to a
lack of internal political efficacy or information efficacy. Especially the youngest gen-
eration feels that they lack the competence and knowledge to make an electoral deci-
sion. Given that internal efficacy is highly predictive of political participation among
adults as well (Clarke & Acock, 1989; Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002), we expect to find
at Universiteit van Amsterdam on March 24, 2015abs.sagepub.comDownloaded from

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"Pathway to Political Participation:..." refers background in this paper

  • ...…for the causal mechanism connecting use of online political information and internal efficacy (Bakker & de Vreese, 2011; Lee, Shah, & McLeod, 2012; Tedesco, 2007), the positive effects on adolescents are still hard to trace on a large scale in the field (Boulianne, 2009; Esser & de Vreese, 2007)....

    [...]

  • ...However, despite growing empirical support for the causal mechanism connecting use of online political information and internal efficacy (Bakker & de Vreese, 2011; Lee, Shah, & McLeod, 2012; Tedesco, 2007), the positive effects on adolescents are still hard to trace on a large scale in the field (Boulianne, 2009; Esser & de Vreese, 2007)....

    [...]

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TL;DR: In this paper, four new questions tapping internal political efficacy were added to the 1988 National Election Study, and inter-item correlations among these questions indicate high internal consistency, that by both exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis the items measure a single concept distinct from external efficacy and political trust, that the measurement model is robust across major subgroups, and that the overall scale is externally valid and provides a good distribution of efficacy scores across the population.
Abstract: Political efficacy has been studied extensively since the 1950s, hut analysts have never been fully satisfied with its measurement. After considerable testing, four new questions tapping internal political efficacy were added to the 1988 National Election Study. Our investigation shows that inter-item correlations among these questions indicate high internal consistency, that by both exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis the items measure a single concept distinct from external efficacy and political trust, that the measurement model is robust across major subgroups, and that the overall scale is externally valid and provides a good distribution of efficacy scores across the population. Further, the results of an order experiment in the survey suggest that responses are unaffected by mode of presentation. In short, the four new questions constitute the most satisfactory measure of internal political efficacy to date.

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"Pathway to Political Participation:..." refers background or methods in this paper

  • ...” It has been a standard item in the internal efficacy scales used in the American National Election for decades (Niemi et al., 1991) and is also used as a single-item indicator in large scale surveys like the European Social Study or the Norwegian election study....

    [...]

  • ...It has been a standard item in the internal efficacy scales used in the American National Election for decades (Niemi et al., 1991) and is also used as a single-item indicator in large scale surveys like the European Social Study or the Norwegian election study....

    [...]

  • ...…of governmental authorities and institutions to citizens’ demands” (Niemi, Craig, & Mattei, 1991, p. 1408), and internal efficacy, defined as beliefs about one’s own competence to understand and to Moeller et al. 691 participate effectively in politics” (Niemi et al., 1991, p. 1408)....

    [...]

BookDOI
04 Sep 2013
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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What are the contributions mentioned in the paper "Pathway to political participation: the influence of online and offline news media on internal efficacy and turnout of first-time voters" ?

This study analyzes the impact of online and offline news media use on the growth in internal efficacy among adolescents, based on data the authors collected in a three-wave panel survey in the Netherlands ( N = 729 ). The article concludes with a discussion of media use as a pathway to political participation through internal political efficacy. 

If TV and Internet news sources can not replace the informational value of newspapers, how will future generations acquire the confidence in their competence to participate in the political process ?