What helps in a democracy

Local journalism helps democracy: those who are not informed do not vote

Local journalism helps democracy: those who are not informed do not vote

A study reveals that the less the media reports on local politics, the lower the voter turnout in the communities.

"The strength of the free peoples rests in the community." In this way, the importance of the core cell of democratic and free societies has been brought to the point somewhat pathetically. The French historian and politician Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) did this in his work "On Democracy in America".

He continues: “The community institutions are for freedom what the elementary schools are for the sciences; they make it accessible to the people; they awaken a taste for their peaceful use in it and get it used to it. "

The quotes did well for us in a speech on the first of August. The reality is often sobering. In many cases, the communities can no longer find any citizens who want to support their institutions, including those of the school. And when there is finally a chance to vote, participation is often low. In any case, voter turnout has been declining more and more at the local level for a long time. An important reason for this:

The less the media reports on local politics, the lower the voter turnout in communities.

This is shown by a study that was recently published. It was developed by political scientists Daniel Kübler and Christopher Goodman from the University of Zurich. They have demonstrated the precarious relationship for democracy in six metropolitan areas (Zurich, Basel, Lucerne, Lausanne, Geneva and Lugano) with over 400 municipalities.

"Bad news for local news"

The background to this is the changing newspaper market. According to the study, many regional and local newspapers have already disappeared, and the process of concentration is continuing: “This is bad news for local news”, for which there is less and less space.

This development "leads to a further decline in political participation because citizens are increasingly lacking the information they need for meaningful civic engagement". This relationship between local reporting and voter turnout also dominates other influencing factors that apply:

The smaller a municipality, the higher its tax income and the more elderly people live in it, the higher the voter turnout.

Political scientist Daniel Kübler sees democracy challenged: "The change in media systems harbors dangers for political participation at the local level and thus for democracy," he is quoted in a statement from the University of Zurich. He also considers it necessary to think about how this development can be stopped or even reversed.

According to the study, many had hoped that digital technologies would fill the gap left by the decline of local newspapers, for example through regional and local online reporting. "For now, however, these hopes have not been fulfilled, mainly because of the difficulties in making a profit with news in the digital market."

Non-profit organizations should step in

It is therefore becoming more and more urgent to examine a non-commercial or publicly financed supply of local news, for example by non-profit organizations, political parties or local authorities. Kübler says:

"Communication about local politics is very important if you want to revive political life in the communities."

If local democracy is in crisis, this will later also have negative effects on the canton and federal level. Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the forefathers of political science, would have signed this statement without hesitation.

Study: Daniel Kübler, Christopher Goodman: Newspaper markets and municipal politics, in: Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, May 2018.