EU Elections & Politics Special Issue from Political Communication
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In the forty years since the first elections to the European Parliament in 1979 the nature of European Union politics has changed, and so has the media and communication ecology. While the 1979 elections, held in the then 9 member states, were among the first elections where the role of television was widely studied, the 2019 elections, held in 27 countries, are shaped by an interest in online media, social media, disinformation, (deep) fakes, and microtargeting.
In this curated, virtual special issue of Political Communication, we make available – free and ungated – articles that have been published in the journal on the topic of EU politics and communication. When putting together the issue we made the following choices: we included ‘recent’ scholarship (defined as the past 20 years, 1999-2019), we included research articles only (thus no book reviews or discussion pieces), and we focus on EU politics, EP elections and/ or research set in EU context. The latter means that we do not include articles on media and politics in different EU countries. The journal has published many excellent studies set in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Greece, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and Denmark, to name a few.
In total, the journal has published nine articles that meet these criteria. We start with Schlessinger’s (1999) piece in which he explores ‘new public communicative spaces’ emerging in the EU as a result of the integration process. He argues that the space is mostly an elite space and that transnational media sustain this ‘restricted elite space’, all confirming or strengthening the EU’s democratic deficit.
The second article, by de Vreese et al. (2001) investigated the cross-national television news framing of the launch of the common European currency, the euro. The article is one of the early comparative frame analyses and shows how generic news frames like conflict and economic consequences dominate but also vary cross-nationally.
The third article by Peter et al (2004) reports on a unique analysis of television news in 14 EU countries prior to the 1999 EP elections. The article shows great variation in the amount of election news in the different countries, and that there is more coverage of the European elections on (a) public broadcasting channels, (b) when elite opinion about the EU is polarized, and (c) when citizens are dissatisfied with their national governments.
The fourth article by van Kempen (2007) used the EU context to advance Seymour-Ure’s original ideas about press-party parallelism. She uses data from the European Election Study and shows that media-party parallelism varies considerably between countries and that it structures citizens' political behavior. In particular, media-party parallelism mobilizes citizens to vote, especially those who are not politically interested.
The fifth article, by van Spanje and de Vreese (2014) uses two wave panel survey data and media content analysis around the 2009 EP elections to study vote choice. They show that media evaluations of the EU affect voting for Eurosceptic parties. On average, the more positive the evaluations of the EU a voter is exposed to, the less likely she or he is to cast a vote for a Eurosceptic party. In addition, they highlight the importance of context: in countries where political parties have markedly different views on EU issues, the more a voter is exposed to framing of the EU in terms of benefits derived from membership in these countries, the less likely she or he is to cast a Eurosceptic vote.
The sixth article by De Bruycker & Beyers (2015) examines the coverage of legislative EU lobbying in the news. Their focus is on how media attention is skewed toward particular interests and which factors explain these varying levels of prominence. They find that media prominence is skewed toward particular types of interests; in particular that organized interests which oppose a proposed policy gain significantly higher levels of media attention.
The seventh article by Vaccari (2017) looks at the relationship between online voter mobilization and political engagement in Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom during the 2014 EP election. He found that respondents who received an invitation to vote for a party or candidate via e-mail or social media engaged in a significantly higher number of political activities than those who did not. Moreover, the relationship between mobilization and engagement was stronger among those who followed the campaign less attentively.
The eight article by De Bruycker (2018) asks whether and under what circumstances a presence in news media debates helps advocacy groups to achieve their policy goals in the EU. The article uses interviews with more than 200 policy practitioners and media content analysis connected to a sample of 125 EU policy proposals. The findings demonstrate that an advocacy group’s media presence may improve preference attainment, but only when the advocacy group manages to frame its objectives in the news as aligned with the public interest.
The ninth article by Castro-Herrero et al (2018) uses the 27 EU country context to study individual political interest as an antecedent of news media exposure from a comparative perspective: The study investigates the extent to which the relative dominance of public service broadcasting alters the relationship between political interest and non-like-minded, or cross-cutting, news media exposure. They find that the extent to which political interest contributes to cross-cutting exposure is contingent on the strength of public service broadcasting. The stronger the broadcaster, the smaller the gaps between the most and least politically engaged individuals.
The articles included in this curated, virtual issue highlights several things: there is significant scholarly interest in the EU itself: this is done by e.g., studying media coverage of the EU, the impact of this coverage on public opinion and electoral behavior, and the role of the media in shaping the EU policy agenda. At the same time, there is also significant interest in using the EU as a comparative space for studying media parallelism or the impact of contextual factors moderating e.g., individual level news consumption. The studies included in the virtual special issue rely on various methods, including interviews, (panel) survey data, and media content analyses.
As the EU is moving towards its 2019 elections in May many new questions are on the horizon and ongoing research is addressing some of them. They include renewed questions about the relationship between media and citizens’ EU attitudes, between media and electoral behavior (both campaign engagement, turnout, and vote choice), the role of social media and platforms, the role of political micro-targeting, and the role of misinformation. As editors of Political Communication hope to receive some of this scholarship for review in the future and hope for now that the ‘historical’ virtual special issue will provide a sense of history and context, both to scholars and practitioners.