Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck, Ansgar Wolsing
European TV environments and citizens' social trust: Evidence from multilevel analyses
This paper sheds new light on Putnam’s hypothesis that watching television, particularly entertainment programs, contributes to an erosion of social trust. Previous studies have been unable to reach convincing evidence regarding this claim. It is argued that this is a consequence of the neglect of indirect, interpersonally mediated TV effects which supplement the influence of direct exposure, and extend even to those who do not watch television. Using data from the 2002 and 2004 waves of the European Social Survey (ESS) in combination with aggregate data from telemetric audience research, we conduct a multilevel analysis of TV’s impact on social trust. Investigating this macro-micro relationship, we find that patterns of general TV use in 25 European societies exert substantial effects on individual social trust that by far exceed those of individual TV use. In line with Putnam’s hypothesis, there is a negative impact of total TV time; however, high market shares of public TV increase social trust.