KU News Service

Study explores whether media usage can predict beliefs on racial, gender equality

Wed, 09/03/2014

LAWRENCE — Egalitarianism, the philosophy that all people should be treated equally both socially and politically, has existed much longer than most media formats, but two University of Kansas professors have authored research examining whether individuals’ media usage can predict their support for the egalitarian value of racial equality.

Tien-Tsung Lee, associate professor of journalism, and Yvonnes Chen, assistant professor of journalism, analyzed survey data of thousands of Americans finding that support for racial equality is part of three egalitarian dimensions: racial attitudes, gender roles and attitudes toward sexual minorities. The researchers compared respondents’ types of media usages to answers they gave to questions asking about issues ranging from religious and political beliefs to openness to other cultures and roles of men and women.

“I thought, ‘Maybe people who support racial equality would support equality for others as well,’ but wanted to learn more,” Lee said. “We found most media don’t have any association with this support. Only four or five had an effect, which didn’t surprise us.”

Lee’s previous research has shown that media do not tend to influence people’s political or other beliefs; rather, individuals hold beliefs and choose to consume media that reflect and enforce them. This study, however, found that people who support equality tend to consume blogs, online videos and radio while tending not to use online professional networks as often as those who do not.

Lee and Chen presented the research at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications conference in Montreal in August.

Lee and Chen analyzed data from a global marketing agency, which since 1975 has gathered a wide range of survey data on American adult consumers. The 2008 survey, the most recent available, had information from more than 7,000 respondents.

The findings showed that people who support racial equality also largely supported gender equality. Conversely, racism, sexism and homophobia were tightly connected as well, with individuals who did not support equality among the races also answering that they did not support equality for women or sexual minorities as well. The survey gathered such data by asking about racism (if people would vote for an African-American if their political party were to nominate one and their opinion on inter-racial marriage), sexism (whether they believe mothers should be in the workforce and if men make better leaders) and homophobia (if they support equal rights for same-sex couples).

One valuable aspect of the study is the finding that people who support the egalitarian values of racial, gender and sexual equality tend to use certain types of media, which can provide insight for groups trying to reach those audiences. In a wide-open media landscape, it can be difficult to reach target demographics, but blogs, online videos and radio were common among those supporting equality.

Lee cautioned against drawing or attempting to confirm stereotypes based on the findings. For example, many of the people who reported being religious also indicated support for all three measures of equality, including for samesex couples. And others who claimed to be politically liberal did not automatically support such equality. However, the data does suggest that organizations that work to support equality for certain groups can effectively work together with organizations aimed at others, as the audiences often overlap.

The researchers hope to expand on the research by looking more closely at the types of media people consume and their beliefs on equality. The survey data did not differentiate which types of blogs people read or whether they listened to conservative talk radio over other types, for example. The study was among the first to compare egalitarianism and media habits, and the authors hope to build on that.

“One interpretation is that there are just so many media channels out there that you can’t make assumptions,” Lee said. “You can read blogs that are conservative or liberal or watch videos from any number of perspectives. If you really want to study media effects, you have to specify.”

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