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Does media coverage influence public attitudes towards welfare recipients? The impact of the 2011 English riots

Reeves, Aaron, de Vries, Robert (2016) Does media coverage influence public attitudes towards welfare recipients? The impact of the 2011 English riots. British Journal of Sociology, 67 (2). pp. 281-306. ISSN 0007-1315. E-ISSN 1468-4446. (doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12191) (KAR id:48114)


Following the shooting of Mark Duggan by police on 4 August 2011, there were riots in many large cities in the UK. As the rioting was widely perceived to be perpetrated by the urban poor, links were quickly made with Britain's welfare policies. In this paper, we examine whether the riots, and the subsequent media coverage, influenced attitudes toward welfare recipients. Using the British Social Attitudes survey, we use multivariate difference-in-differences regression models to compare attitudes toward welfare recipients among those interviewed before (pre-intervention: i.e. prior to 6 August) and after (post-intervention: 10 August–10 September) the riots occurred (N?=?3,311). We use variation in exposure to the media coverage to test theories of media persuasion in the context of attitudes toward welfare recipients. Before the riots, there were no significant differences between newspaper readers and non-readers in their attitudes towards welfare recipients. However, after the riots, attitudes diverged. Newspaper readers became more likely than non-readers to believe that those on welfare did not really deserve help, that the unemployed could find a job if they wanted to and that those on the dole were being dishonest in claiming benefits. Although the divergence was clearest between right-leaning newspaper and non-newspaper readers, we do not a find statistically significant difference between right- and left-leaning newspapers. These results suggest that media coverage of the riots influenced attitudes towards welfare recipients; specifically, newspaper coverage of the riots increased the likelihood that readers of the print media expressed negative attitudes towards welfare recipients when compared with the rest of the population.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/1468-4446.12191
Uncontrolled keywords: riots; quasi-natural experiment; social attitudes; media; welfare
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Robert De Vries
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2015 12:37 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:24 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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