People who are exposed more to entertainment television are less cognitively sophisticated and socio-politically engaged, suggesting the reason as to why populist politicians come to power.
Researchers from Queen Mary University Of London found a correlation between exposure to light entertainment TV and the likelihood of people voting for Silvio Berlusconi's populist Forza Italia party. The researchers investigated the political impact of entertainment television in Italy over the last 30 years during the phased introduction of Silvio Berlusconi's commercial TV network Mediaset.
‘Entertainment content can influence political attitudes, creating a fertile ground for the spread of populist messages.’
They compared the voting behaviours of people who lived in regions where Mediaset was broadcast versus those where Berlusconi's network was unavailable. The results indicated that people who started watching entertainment programmes aged 55 and older were 10 percent more likely to vote for Berlusconi than those of the same age who did not watch the shows.
Among the less educated, people who watched a lot of entertainment TV as children were three percent more likely to vote for Berlusconi than their counterparts living in areas where the programmes were not available. "Our results suggest that individuals exposed to entertainment TV as children are less cognitively sophisticated and less socio-politically engaged as adults, and ultimately more vulnerable to Berlusconi's populist rhetoric," said study author Dr Andrea Tesei.
"Older people, on the other hand, appear to have been hooked by the light entertainment Mediaset provided and were later exposed to biased news content on the same channels," Tesei added. The research also showed that watching entertainment TV early in life was associated with later disadvantages. Those exposed to the programmes as children scored five percent worse in mental performance tests when they reached adulthood.
They were also less likely to report an interest in politics or be involved in a voluntary group. The researchers found that people who are exposed to entertainment TV as children are cognitively disadvantaged in later life. Those who were exposed as children score five percent worse than their non-exposed peers in cognitive test as adults; they are also 13 percent less likely to report an interest in politics, and 10 percent less likely to be involved in a voluntary group. "Our results suggest that entertainment content can influence political attitudes, creating a fertile ground for the spread of populist messages," Dr Tesei concluded.