Scholars continue to debate what citizens know about politics, whether ordinary people lack the capacity to make rational and informed choices in a democracy, and what voters learn from election campaigns. One common prism to understand these issues focuses upon the role of ‘knowledge gaps’, suggesting that any adult learning from the media will be strongly conditioned by prior levels of formal education. An alternative theory suggests that lifetime learning occurs, so that adult use of the news media has the capacity to shrink any information gaps arising from early schooling. Dozens of studies have examined the individual-level factors associated with political knowledge among citizens, including the role of fixed characteristics such as sex and race, and of slowly changing factors such as education and income. Cross-national research is important, however, as the broader context of information environments is expected to play a vital role in shaping political learning; with smaller knowledge gaps predicted in more cosmopolitan societies, where communications flows easily across and within national borders.
To explore these issues, this study compares European citizens to investigate whether the size and distribution of any knowledge gaps are affected by individual-level education and media use and also by societal-level processes of cosmopolitan communications. The study utilizes the European Parliament Election Study 2009 survey, monitoring individual level news use and civic knowledge. Societies are classified by the cosmopolitan characteristics of media landscapes in European countries, using the Norris and Inglehart (2009) Cosmopolitan Communications Index. The conclusion considers the implications of the results for understanding processes of political learning within European societies.
Norris, Pippa. "To Them That Hath’…News Media and Knowledge Gaps." Comparative Governance and Politics (Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft) 6.1 (November 2012): 71- 98.