This year we have been able to ask a number of questions about people’s interest in politics in five countries (UK, Germany, Italy, Denmark, and the US), and to cross-check this with their use of different offline and online media as sources for political news. We have also asked whether and how people use online opportunities to engage in politics. Our interest in exploring these issues stems from the fact that a healthy democracy depends on the citizens’ access to a diversity of news media and on the opportunities for participation in public debate and political processes enabled by these media.
Levels of interest in politics compared
Overall, interest in politics turns out to be significantly higher in Germany and the US, where respectively 60% and 55% say that they are either extremely interested or very interested in politics, compared to considerably lower levels of interest in Denmark (41%), Italy (41%), and especially the UK (33%). In all five countries a fairly large group in the middle say that they are ‘somewhat interested in politics’, while in the UK and Italy almost a quarter of the population have little or no interest in politics.
Across the five countries interest in politics varies considerably by age and gender. In general, women and men are separated by approximately 20 percentage points with respect to self-reported interest in politics (with a somewhat smaller gap in Italy). With respect to age, it is especially the younger age groups (18–24 and 25–34) who are less interested in politics, while the other age groups are not very far from the national average.
Levels of interest by age and gender
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Q2a. How interested would you say you are in politics? Showing net of extremely and very interested
Base: All markets 2014 – UK=2082, Germany=2063, Italy=2010, Denmark=2036, USA=2197
Generally speaking, older people in Germany, Denmark, and the US express more interest in politics than younger people. In Italy and the UK, interest is more even across all age groups.
Sources of political news
In most of the countries covered here, two-thirds or more of the population say that they keep up with political and government issues by means of broadcasters’ news.
Though broadcast news – through its combined offline and online reach – is consistently the single most important and widely used source of news about politics, the second-most important source of news differs considerably among the five countries. In some countries, newspaper publishers remain in a strong second or third position as a result of the combined attractions of their print and online news platforms. This is the case in the UK, Germany, Italy, and Denmark. In all countries, print use is declining, but newspapers retain considerable reach and significance. In the US the picture is much more diverse. There too, local newspapers reach a significant audience, but national newspapers trail behind social media and email newsletters and alerts, and are as widely used as a source of information about politics and government issues as online specialist sites/political blogs.
Main sources of political news by country
When we break down media use by interest in politics, it is clear that news from broadcasters and newspapers is especially important when it comes to people with limited interest in politics. This group (which varies in size from 24% in the UK to 23% in Italy to around 15% in the US and Denmark and just 11% in Germany) also tends to rely more than other groups on information from friends, relatives, and colleagues, while social media do not stand out as more significant than is the case for other groups.
Main sources of political news for those with low interest
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|Broadcasters||National Newspapers||Local newspapers||Social media||Friends relatives|
Q2b. Which, if any, of the following sources of information do you use to keep up with political and government issues? (Please select all that apply)
Base: Those who are not very interested or not interested at all – UK=325, Germany=154, Italy=339, Denmark=295, US=204
In comparison, those who express a high interest in politics are generally heavy consumers of a wide range of media including the mainstream news providers as well as various niche and specialist news media like politically focused magazines (print and online) and online specialist sites.
Across four of the five countries, broadcasters’ news is the most important source of political information for the youngest age groups (18–24). The US is the only exception to this. There, conversation with friends, relatives, and colleagues lead neck-to-neck with social media amongst the youngest citizens, with broadcasters in third place. Young people in the other four countries also frequently report interpersonal communication offline and online as an important source of information about politics.
Online political engagement
As is often highlighted, the internet offers not only sources of information, but also opportunities for a wide variety of forms of political engagement, ranging from very low-cost forms of engagement like signing a petition or expressing one’s views on a social media site to more demanding forms of engagement like joining a political campaign or organising a political event.
Across the countries covered here, between half (UK, Germany, and Denmark) and two-thirds (Italy and the US) of online news users report that they have in the last year used the internet to get more involved in politics.
Looking across the countries, there are some significant similarities and differences. The figure provides an overview of a selection of the most important kinds of activities we asked about (five out of nine kinds of activity).
Online involvement with politics by country
In all the countries, low-cost forms of engagement like signing an online petition or expressing one’s views via ‘Web 2.0’ (a social media site) or ‘Web 1.0’ (email) tools are the most common phenomena. A more limited number of people report actively following politicians or political parties on social media sites, and even fewer have used the internet to organise political events or find political meetings to attend. As one would expect, people who report a high interest in politics are significantly more likely to use the internet to get involved.
Across most of the forms of online political engagement in our survey, Italy and especially the United States have the highest number of people using the internet to get more involved in politics or to express their opinion. This is broadly in line with our data from last year where the US, with a longer tradition of internet politics and more substantial investments in online mobilisation from political parties and campaigns, stood out alongside the Mediterranean countries who are going through a period of political upheaval.