These findings raise questions about whether the boundaries between dutiful and actualizing norms—and non-electoral and electoral participation, respectively—are still relevant in the contemporary media environment.
That’s from a new paper in Political Studies, based on an analysis of US survey data (N = 2200), whose findings contradict established theories about how media use interacts with citizenship norms, and what gets people politically engaged. Most notably, it finds that traditional media consumption predicts non-electoral participation, which runs counter to established theories and expectations in the dry (through tremendously important) body of research thinking about political communication and participation norms.
Knocking established theories off balance is always fun. This is even more fun, because it’s the first empirical support I’ve seen for arguments that our current information environment is changing the way we think about politics. This makes particular sense in the US, where interaction between new media ecosystems and identify politics have also recently catalyzed significant political upheavals, and people are actively using digital media to respond and to process.
We need better theory and methods to ask the next set of questions, about how and if to distinguish and identify types of political participation norms, and about fluidity across types of media. Most importantly, we need to get out from under the tyranny of electoral participation as a measure of political engagement in political communication studies. There is a broad and uncertain interest brewing about the importance of other kinds of civic engagement, but structuring that into a analytical concept is the next piece to this puzzle.