Political polarization as a media narrative: the Swedish case, 2011-2020.
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten
Elin Anna Topp
Summary, in English
Although findings yield differing conclusions, there is a consensus that the US political system has polarized in the last few decades (Mason 2018). Outside of the US, empirical results have been scarce and mixed. Political polarization tends to be easier to measure in a two-party system, whereas multiparty systems might not be as conducive to clear cases of polarization. Media effects are one of potential causes mentioned in scientific literature. In agenda-setting research, it has been shown how mediation can impact the perception of society of media consumers (McCombs & Shaw 1972). News are told as a narrative in order to make sense of “fragmentary observations” and present it in a coherent way through storytelling (Bird and Dardenne, 2009). If the media conveys an image of increased political polarization in society, there could potentially be effects on the perception of the levels of political polarization among media consumers and shape how political elites and voters act. Here, we propose a study of political polarization as a media narrative in Sweden. We do so by coding 240 randomly selected articles out of a total of 8153 articles in Swedish printed press for the years 2011-2020, containing the word polarization (polarize*). Coding is performed for contextual information (type of article, country of focus) and qualitative aspects of the word use. In light of results yielded by this, the sample is revisited with a qualitative analysis of speech acts performed using the concept.The study finds that polarization is an ambiguous concept in Swedish media discourse. This is in part due to its transformation during the research period, from an academic and relatively innocuous adjective into a loaded descriptor of the times. The pilot study uncovers three related tendencies in the material; that the word is increasingly used in a self-evident (though unclear) manner, that it is increasingly used as amplification in opinion texts, and that it lacks the clear referent of the American context. Further research will explore some of the avenues opened up in this pilot study.