Effects of personalized political communication on trust in politicians


Prof. Dr. Michaela Maier & Lukas Otto (extern: Silke Adam, Universität Bern)

Personalization of politics is a popular concept. Some scholars even claim that it "will remain a — perhaps the — central feature of democratic politics in the twenty-first century" (McAllister, 2007, p. 585). Despite the popularity of the concept there is almost no systematic empirical research on the effects of personalized political communication (Adam & Maier, 2010). Jebril et al. (2013) and Otto and Maier (2013) found personalized political communication, i.e. political coverage focusing on politicians and not on political parties or issue to be unrelated to trust in politicians and political cynicism, while privatized political communication, i.e. coverage focusing on private, non-political characteristics of politicians having rather negative effects on trust in politicians. As in the first term of the project we try and investigate the relationship between the reception of personalized and privatized political communication and trust in politicians in experimental studies. Thereby, we analyze moderating variables like general trust, political interest and party identification, mediating variables like positive and negative emotions and dependent variables like media trust or media skepticism.

In our first study we investigate the personalization hypotheses in the context of the German televised debates 2013 (study I). We try to answer the question if personalized coverage of the politicians in the debate influences the perception of the candidates. Therefore, we manipulate the medium of the debate (Audio only vs. Audio/Video-Versions of the debate) and compare the different levels of personalization (Druckman, 2003; Faas & Maier, 2004; Maurer & Reinemann, 2007). In a second study we (1) want to replicate the finding that privatized political communication affects trust in politicians and (2) want to focus on emotional processes explaining the effects of privatized communication and the trust-evaluation. We draw on appraisal-theories of emotion to investigate which emotions play a role for the trust judgment (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005; Lerner & Keltner, 2000) and we furthermore build on the affect infusion model to clarify when or under which circumstance do recipients use emotions as information for social judgment (Forgas, 1995). We also analyze if and how personalized and privatized political communication affects trust in the news media (study II). Finally, we want to generalize our findings not only across different topics, politicians but also across different media so we use (personalized/privatized) TV-stimuli in our third study as personalization might be of special importance in TV coverage (study III) (Hayes, 2009).

The project integrates psychological (role of emotions) and communication science (personalization, media skepticism) concepts to come to a better understanding and explanation of media effects on political trust and thus provides a unique perspective and insights for both disciplines.

Research Questions

RQ1: Which effects do personalized in contrast do non-personalized versions of televised debates have?

RQ2: Which effects do positive and negative personalized and privatized messages have on trust in politicians and media trust?

RQ3: How does personalized and privatized coverage affect emotional states of recipients? Do these emotions mediate the effect of political coverage on trust in politicians?


 Grafik Personalisierung-Studie English



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Druckman, J. N. (2003). The Power of Television Images: The First Kennedy-Nixon Debate Revisited. The Journal of Politics, 65(2), 559–571.

Dunn, J. R. & Schweitzer, M. E. (2005). Feeling and Believing: The Influence of Emotion on Trust. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(5), 736–748.

Faas, T. & Maier, J. (2004). Schröders Stimme, Stoibers Lächeln. Wahrnehmungen von Gerhard Schröder und Edmund Stoiber bei Sehern und Hörern der Fernsehdebatten im Vorfeld der Bundestagwahl 2002. In T. Knieper & M. G. Müller (Hrsg.), Visuelle Wahlkampfkommunikation (1 ed., S. 186–209). Köln: von Halem Verlag.

Forgas, J. P. (1995). Mood and judgment: The affect infusion model (AIM). Psychological Bulletin, 117(1), 39–66.

Hayes, D. (2009). Has Television Personalized Voting Behavior? Political Behavior, 31(2), 231–260.

Jebril, N., Albaek, E. & De Vreese, C. H. (2013). Infotainment, cynicism and democracy: The effects of privatization vs personalization in the news. European Journal of Communication, 28(2), 105–121.

Lerner, J. S. & Keltner, D. (2000). Beyond valence: Toward a model of emotion-specific influences on judgement and choice. Cognition & Emotion, 14(4), 473-493.

Maurer, M. & Reinemann, C. (2007). Personalisierung durch Priming: Die Wirkungen des TV-Duells auf die Urteilkriterien der Wähler. In M. Maurer, C. Reinemann, J. Maier & M. Maier (Hrsg.), Schröder gegen Merkel (1 ed.). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

McAllister, I. (2007). The personalization of politics. In R. J. Dalton & H. D. Klingemann (Hrsg.), Oxford handbook of political behavior (S. 571–588): Oxford University Press.

Otto, L. & Maier, M. (2013, May). Mediated and Moderated Effects of Personalized Political Communication on Political Trust. Paper presented at the 63th Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association (ICA), London, UK