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IP 13 (Phase I): The strategies and processes of attitude formation and public participation

This project analyzed the role of public opinion in political campaigns. The aim was to answer the following questions:

  • How do citizens use traditional and new media for political information?
  • What do citizens know about the campaign issues, how is this knowledge distributed and which changes occur during the campaigning process?
  • How do citizens process political information, how do they store knowledge and construct judgments and how are these judgments influenced by affective processes?
  • How are these processes related to campaign strategies, media coverage, mass media exposure and interpersonal communication? 

The research aims were twofold:

First, we focused on the use of media and the transmission of political information through the mass media in general, and on the emergence of knowledge gaps during the campaign in particular. Second, we examined the processes of media use, knowledge acquisition, opinion formation and attitude change over the course of political campaigns. The results of these processes depend partly on the distribution of information, i.e. whether information is obtained and stored, and on the depth of processing, i.e. whether information is processed systematically and scrutinized or is gathered and considered in a shallow and heuristic manner requiring less cognitive effort.

The study was based on panel-survey data collected over the course of political campaigns. In order to demonstrate the reciprocal influences among political actors, media actors and the public, this data wascombined with the results of a media content analysis (IP 12) and the results of a survey of political leaders (IP 11).

The research will provide insights into the functioning of political campaigns and will make it possible to trace processes of individual political opinion formation and to determine under what circumstances opinions change. The results will benefit political actors, media actors, and practitioners in public education, in addition to enhancing the public’s understanding of political campaigns.

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Project leaders:
Prof. Heinz Bonfadelli, University of Zurich
Prof. Werner Wirth, University of Zurich

Thomas Friemel, University of Zurich
Dr. Jörg Matthes, University of Zurich
Dr. Mirko Marr, University of Zurich
Christian Schemer, University of Zurich