The Influence of Political Talk Radio on Confidence in Democratic Institutions

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Communication | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Influence and Political Communication


This study compares people's use of political talk radio to that of other mass communication sources and to their confidence in democratic institutions. The paper argues that communication modalities (e.g., political talk radio) serve as important sources of secondary socialization: negative depictions of democratic institutions by specific sources cultivate negative perceptions of those institutions among users of these modalities. In order to test this position, the investigation employs a broad interconnected approach, combining a content analysis of references to specific democratic institutions across mass communication sources with a survey of people's media use patterns and their confidence in institutions. The results indicate that political talk radio depicts most institutions negatively, and that listeners manifest reduced confidence in those institutions. The implications of these findings for this nation's “crisis of confidence” in political institutions are explored.