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Strategies of Secession and Counter-Secession

Second-Order Media Coverage Leading to Second-Order Elections?

Comparative Politics
European Union
Claes De Vreese
University of Amsterdam
Hajo Boomgaarden
University of Vienna
Claes De Vreese
University of Amsterdam

The second-order hypothesis is among the major theoretical frameworks explaining European Parliament (EP) elections. In basic terms the hypothesis posits that EP elections are viewed as less important than national elections, which then leads to a number of peculiarities in electoral behavior at EP elections compared to national ones. EP elections are characterized by lower turnout, a focus on national issues and actors detrimental to EU issues and actors, and higher vote shares of smaller extreme parties and of opposition parties. Recent studies have questioned the validity of the second-order hypothesis from a voter perspective, showing considerable variation in to what degree the different peculiarities. This study asks whether exposure to certain characteristics of election campaign coverage in the mass media does contribute to individuals and electorates behaving more or less in line with the second-order paradigm. It furthermore investigates whether and to what degree these media effects are conditioned by contextual variations, for instance the electoral cycle.
Addressing this question we draw on a unique data source that integrates representative public opinion surveys and media content analyses from the 1999, 2004 and 2009 EP elections in all member states. Relevant media content characteristics are identified in line with the second-order literature and relate to the overall visibility of the EP election campaign in the media, the salience of EU vs. national issues and actors and the visibility of actors from different types of political parties. These are fed into the survey data on the level of the individual respondent (using detailed media exposure measures) and on the country level. The dependent variables are characterized by different operationalizations of voting, such as turning out to vote at all, switching votes between different types of parties and voting based on EU issue vs. national issue positions.
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