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Department of Communication and Media Research Political Communication


The determinants, perceptions, and effects of exposure to diverse political viewpoints in modern information environments (SNSF-funded)

with Quirin Ryffel MA 

The research project deals with the diversity of viewpoints and arguments that citizens are exposed to in modern information environments. Viewpoint exposure will be observed for two issues of global political importance: immigration and climate change. In particular, we are interested in the question of how micro- and macro-level factors contribute to the fact that some people perceive more diverse political opinions than others. In addition, we explore the effects of perceived viewpoint diversity exposure on people’s political beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. The project is based on an international comparative (online) panel survey in Switzerland, Spain, and the USA as well as a mobile experience sampling study in the three countries. The project started in spring 2022. 

Causes and consequences of the perception of public opinion in times of social media (DFG-funded, 2018-2021)

with Lara Kobilke MA, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich 

How do we make up our minds about other people’s opinions? This question is particularly relevant when it comes to political issues because people are subject to social influences that shape their own attitudes and behaviors. Social media – especially social networking sites – have significantly increased the visibility of other citizens’ opinions. This project explores the question of what influence new media have on our image of public opinion and what effect this has on our perception and behavior. 

Effects of Online Astroturfing on Political Attitudes and Perceptions of Reality

 with Prof. Dr. Florian Töpfl, University of Passau 

“Astroturfing” is a communication strategy aimed at creating the (false) impression that a certain opinion is supported by citizens. By suggesting such public support, the astroturfing principal wants to influence individual attitudes and perceptions of public opinion. Especially in the political context, astroturfing has become a global phenomenon in recent years, with Russia in particular proving to be an active astroturfing actor. Among other things, individuals with fake profiles have been tasked with commenting on Russia-related topics in social media and taking counter-positions to statements critical of Russia (e.g., in the context of the Crimea crisis). In the project, we explore two central questions: (1) How do Russia-friendly astroturfing comments in social networks affect users’ attitudes and perceptions? (2) What measures can be taken to prevent these effects? 

Ordinary citizens as news actors

with Prof. Dr. Christina Peter, University of Klagenfurt 

News media coverage is usually dominated by political actors, as they hold a special social status and high news value. In democratic systems, however, the responsibility of the media is not limited to reporting on political elites, but also consists of giving different social groups a chance to have their say. The role of ordinary citizens in reporting is still largely unexplored, which is surprising for two reasons: First, they certainly have heightened importance as democratic sovereigns. Second, research has shown that the portrayal of citizens and their opinions in news coverage can affect recipients’ perceptions of reality, attitudes and behavior. This project explores the question of how often and in what form television news reports about ordinary citizens and their opinions, and how coverage has evolved over time (2009-2015). Changes in reporting are suspected, among other things, because individual citizen’s opinions – including extreme opinions – become visible online and thus also become more easily visible for journalists.