With Malice toward All? The Media and Public Confidence in Democratic Institutions

By Patricia Moy; Michael Pfau | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
The Question of Causality

Citizens' beliefs about the competency and sincerity of government actors are probably not derived from direct experience. Instead, people are informed about their qualities by journalists.

Political scientists Virginia Chanley and Wendy Rahn ( 1996, p. 17)

Most complex social phenomena have multiple causes, and it would be surprising if this one did not.

Political scientists Joseph S. Nye, Jr., and Philip Zelikow ( 1997, p. 269)

Researchers have offered a number of rival explanations for the problem of lack of confidence in, distrust of, and cynicism toward democratic institutions. This chapter systematically examines a number of plausible explanations for the confidence problem. We group these rival explanations under three broad categories: substantive failings of institutions and/or their leaders; citizens' sociodemographic factors; and the negativity of the mass media. Although this book is particularly interested in the influence of the mass media -- and to a lesser extent, sociodemographic variables -- we must make the caveat that all three classes of explanations may partially contribute to the confidence problem.


THE SUBSTANTIVE EXPLANATION

When scholars in the early 1970s first focused their attention on the problem of public confidence levels following their initial collapse, a de-

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