Facing Europe

The personalization of European Union politics in news coverage and its consequences for democracy

(NWO VENI grant, project no. 451-15-003, €250.000)

This project offers a novel, interdisciplinary approach to the study of the personalization of European Union politics in news coverage. The personalization of politics is a long-observed phenomenon in modern democracies that has received considerable scholarly attention in national politics. However, little is known about the scope, causes and consequences of personalization in EU politics. Recent institutional and political developments suggest that such a trend, whereby politicians increasingly become the main focus of political processes, is underway: the Lisbon Treaty created new political offices and, for the first time, the major European party families put forward top candidates for Commission President in the 2014 EU elections.

The media provide a crucial link between EU citizens and their representatives. Studying the personalization of EU news coverage is therefore important in view of the debates about the EU’s alleged accountability deficit. The project integrates three subprojects which aim at (1) understanding whether we see an increase in personalized news coverage of EU politics over time, (2) explaining which factors are responsible for variation at the temporal, country and individual level, and (3) assessing the effects of personalized EU news content on citizen awareness, political trust and cynicism towards the EU. To do so, the project relies on an innovative longitudinal and comparative research design, studying newspaper coverage in six EU countries (Ireland, Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany) from 1994 to 2015, and applies an original multi-method approach, combining computer-assisted content analyses with experimental methods.

The project’s findings have important implications for EU politicians, journalists, citizens and future research as it will ultimately evaluate whether the extent of personalization in EU news and its underlying conditions make a difference for citizen awareness and attitudes towards the EU and its decision-makers. It thereby contributes to the question of the EU’s democratic legitimacy.

Publication(s)

Gattermann, K. & de Vreese, C.H. (2017). The role of candidate evaluations in the 2014 European Parliament elections: Towards the personalization of voting behaviour?, European Union Politics, 18(3), 447-468