Polarization, Communication and Politics: Comparing Europe & the USA | EUJ214

Instructor: Tina Mavrikos-Adamou

Course Description

This course seeks to analyze and examine the role that political polarization has played in EU member states and US politics in the 21st century.  The first part of the course will define political polarization, the difference between partisanship, populism, and polarization, as well as differences between mass and elite polarization.  The second part of the course will explore the relationship between media systems and outlets and politics.  Discussions will focus on what role the media has played in the rise of populism and the polarization of party politics in EU member states and in the USA.  The final part of the course will examine the proliferation of social and digital media, so-called “Fake News,” and the legitimacy challenges facing the media in the 21st century.

Course Objectives

  • to enhance students’ critical thinking skills and assist in the synthesis and assimilation of theories, discourses and analyses of political polarization and the role of the media
  • to enable students to understand what role the media plays in polarization in EU member states and in US politics by analyzing specific media outlets and the language they use
  • to reveal the connection between politics and communication
  • to lay bare the consequences of political polarization on public opinion
  • to provide guidance to students to produce an original paper on a subject of their choice relating to the polarization of European and US politics and the role of the media

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. comprehend key theories and concepts related to political polarization and the media in Europe and the US
  2. apply the language of political polarization, through analysis of the concept as is demonstrated in Europe and US politics
  3. examine the social, economic, and geographical determinants of polarization in the USA
  4. have comprehended how political polarization has occurred in Europe and the US, the role that the media has played in this, and the consequences emanating from this
  5. have completed a class presentation and a comprehensive writing assignment related to polarization and the role of the media

Class/Learning activities

Lectures, workshops, in-class presentations, literature study, written assignments.


Type of work Description Hours
Lectures Thirteen 3-hour lectures 39
Independent study Study of compulsory and optional literature 61
Research Online research 30
Active Learning Exercises in the classroom 50
Written assignments-Presentations Written assignments

a.    two short assignments (500 words)

b.    essay (1.500-2000 words)

c.    in-class presentations

                                    Total workload 290


Type of assessment Learning outcome Impact on final grade Date of assessment
Participation in group work and discussion 1-3 20% Regularly
Presentation of group work 1-3, 5 20% 13th week
Written assignments (short) 1-2 30% 3rd-7th week
Written assignment (essay) 5 30%    13th week

Required Reading

Tentative Bibliography (Selections from the following books)

  • Aalberg, Toril, Frank Esser, Carsten Reinemann, Jesper Strömback, and Claes H. de Vreese eds. (2017) Populist Political Communication in Europe, Routledge Press.
  • Abramowitz, Alan (2019) The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation and the Rise of Donald Trump, Yale University Press.
  • Ashley, Seth, Jessica Roberts and Adam Maksl (2019) American Journalism and “Fake News:” Examining the Facts, ABC-Clio.
  • Beaufort, Maren ed. (2019) Digital Media, Political Polarization and Challenges to Democracy, Routledge Press.
  • Campbell, James E. (2016) Making Sense of a Divided America, Princeton University Press.
  • Carothers, Thomas and Andrew O’Donohoe eds. (2019) Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
  • Fletcher, R., & Jenkins, J. (2019). Polarisation and the news media in Europe (Vol. 2019, pp. 1–49). European Parliament. (pdf)
  • Hallin, Daniel C., and Paolo Mancini. (2017) “Ten Years After Comparing Media Systems: What Have We Learned?” Political Communication 34 (2): 155–71.
  • Hawks, Banu Baybars and Sarphan Uzunoğlu eds. (2019) Polarization, Populism and the New Politics: Media Communication in a Changing World, Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Hopkins, Daniel and John Sides (2015) Political Polarization in American Politics, Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Lang, Thilo, Sebastian Henn, Wladimir Sgibnev, and Kornelia Ehrlich eds. (2015) Understanding Geographies of Polarization & Peripheralization, Palgrave MacMillan.
  • McCarthy, Nolan (2019) Polarization: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford University Press.
  • Mudde, C. and Kaltwasser, C. R. eds. (2012) Populism in Europe and the Americas: Threat or Corrective for Democracy? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Prior, Markus (2007) Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections, Princeton University Press.
  • Ridout, Travis N. ed. (2018) New Directions in Media and Politics, 2nd edition, Routledge Publishers.
  • Stepinska, Agnieszka ed. (2014) Media and Communication in Europe, Berlin: Logos Verlag.
  • Sunstein, Cass R. (2017) #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, Princeton University Press.

Periodical Literature

  • Bagginni, J. (2016) “How Rising Trump and Sanders Parallel Rising Populism in Europe,” New Perspectives Quarterly, 33(2).
  • Bennett, W. Lance and Barbara Pfetsch, (2018) “Rethinking Political Communication in a Time of Disrupted Public Spheres,” Journal of Communication, 68, pp. 243-253.
  • Benson, Rodney, Mark Blach-Ørsten, Matthew Powers, Ida Willig, Sandra Vera Zambrano, (2012) “Media Systems Online and Off: Comparing the Form of News in the United States, Denmark, and France,” Journal of Communication, 62: 1, February 2012, pp.21–38
  • Gounari, P. (2018) “Authoritarianism, Discourse and Social Media: Trump as the ‘American Agitator’ ” In: Morelock, J. (ed.) Critical Theory and Authoritarian Populism, pp. 207–227. London: University of Westminster Press.
  • Horackek, Nina “Propaganda War in Europe: The Far-Right Media,” https://www.europeanpressprize.com/article/propaganda-war-europe-far-right-media/.
  • Levendusky, Matthew and Neil Malhotr, “Does Media Coverage of Partisan Polarization Affect Political Attitudes?” Political Communication, 33:283–301, 2016.
  • Müller, Philipp, Christian Schemer, Martin Wettstein, Anne Schul, Dominique S. Wirz, Sven Engesser, & Werner Wirth, “The Polarizing Impact of News Coverage on Populist Attitudes in the Public: Evidence From a Panel Study in Four European Democracies,” Journal of Communication 67 (2017) 968–992.
  • Robison, J., & Mullinix, K. J. (2016). Elite Polarization and Public Opinion: How Polarization Is Communicated and Its Effects. Political Communication, 33(2), 261–282.
  • Rove, Karl. “The Weirdness of American Politics,” The Wall Street Journal, 24 January 2019.
  • Wells, C., Cramer, K. J., Wagner, M. W., Alvarez, G., Friedland, L. A., Shah, D. V., Bode, L., Edgerly, S., Gabay, I., & Franklin, C. (2017). “When We Stop Talking Politics: The Maintenance and Closing of Conversation in Contentious Times.” Journal of Communication, 67(1), 131–157.
  • Wojcieszak Magdalena, Rachid Azrout, and Claes de Vreese, “Waving the Red Cloth: Media Coverage of a Contentious Issue Triggers Polarization,” Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 1, Spring 2018, pp. 87–109.

Online Sites

Pew Research Institute: https://www.journalism.org/2018/05/14/in-western-europe-public-attitudes-toward-news-media-more-divided-by-populist-views-than-left-right-ideology/

Journalist’s Resource: https://journalistsresource.org/studies/politics/polarization/media-fox-news-party-fighting-research/

New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/

The Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/

CNN: https://edition.cnn.com/

Fox News: https://www.foxnews.com/go

Twitter: Donald Trump: https://twitter.com/potus

The Rush Limbaugh Show: https://www.rushlimbaugh.com/

MSNBC: https://www.msnbc.com/live

NPR Public Radio: https://www.npr.org/

Saturday Night Live: https://www.youtube.com/user/SaturdayNightLive


Course Schedule (Tentative)

Weeks 1: Introduction to the Course & Course Material

Weeks 2-3: Key Concepts and Theories: Polarization (policy, elite, mass), Partisanship, and other key concepts

Weeks 4-5: The Role of the Media in Polarization and Partisanship

Weeks 6-7: Polarization and Partisanship in the US and its Effects

Weeks 8-9: Europe: Case Studies in Polarization and Partisanship

Weeks 10-12: The Role of the Media in the 21st century; “Fake News” and Public Perceptions of the Media and the Legitimacy of Communication

Week 13: Student Presentations