Public Opinion

Attitudes stable but influenced by media

One part of the REMINDER project was a panel survey and experiment looking at attitudes to free movement and migration, and factors that influence the formation of those opinions, in seven case study countries: the UK, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Hungary, Romania and Poland.

The results showed that people don’t tend to change their attitudes to free movement very easily. However, when researchers linked media content with the panel study, they found that media messages can affect attitudes toward and perceptions of free movement. In the case of Hungary, those who received negative migration-related news developed more negative attitudes toward free movement over time, while in the UK visibility of migration-related news led to more positive attitudes.

For the researchers to see an effect from media exposure, a participant receiving certain media frames had to change their attitude at least slightly over the course of the panel survey. 28% became more negative towards free movement, 26% became more positive towards it, and 28% did not change their preference. So, while the results show that attitudes toward free movement are fairly stable, they also suggest that consumption of migration-related news can lead to more positive free movement attitudes over time.

In a separate experimental study, the team also found some evidence that being exposed to media coverage that emphasizes a specific ‘frame’ (a specific way of thinking about an issue — e.g., positive or negative) affects people’s policy preferences.

What are the implications of this finding?