Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in Political Science

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Alice H. Cooper

Second Advisor

Carrie V. Smith

Third Advisor

Paul M. Loveless

Abstract

Since 1989, the countries in central and eastern Europe have undergone a tremendous amount of societal and political change. While previous studies have noted the importance of citizen support for democracy in providing a base for regime stability in these new democracies, there is considerable debate in what influences these values. One possible mechanism of attitude change is mass media. Previous studies in political science have noted the importance of mass media in influencing citizen attitudes and behavior. Though this research has uncovered a plethora of effects that the media can have, the extant literature has mostly focused on this relationship in older, established democracies. This study seeks to advance literature on political communication by extending this research to new democracies and new media. Specifically, it explores the effects of the internet on support for democracy in central and eastern Europe. The main hypothesis is citizens who use the internet will be more supportive of democratic governance and the norms of a democratic society because the internet offers immediate feedback loops between citizens, media outlets, and politicians, as well as the opportunity to diffuse democratic norms through social interaction online. To test this prediction, the study utilizes data from eurobarometer and the European social survey. The findings show that internet use does increase support for the political regime and democratic norms in the region's democracies, while only increasing support for democratic norms in the non-democracies. Furthermore, the findings show that social interaction online tends to be a driving mechanism in producing support for democracy, while online news increases the chances for citizens to hold political elites accountable by providing an open space for healthy political opposition to coalesce. These findings provide evidence that the internet can be a particularly helpful mechanism in supporting democratic consolidation in these new democracies because it provides unique opportunities to influence support for democratic norms and hold elected leaders accountable to the mass public.

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