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Light entertainment TV shows 'partly responsible for rise of populist leaders'

Berlusconi rose to power with his Forza Italia party (AP)
Berlusconi rose to power with his Forza Italia party (AP)

Entertainment programmes on TV may be partly responsible for the rise of populist politicians such as US president Donald Trump, researchers claim.

Scientists in Italy found a correlation between exposure to light entertainment TV and the likelihood of people voting for Silvio Berlusconi's populist Forza Italia party.

People who started watching entertainment programmes aged 55 and older were 10% more likely to vote for Berlusconi than those of the same age who did not watch the shows.

Among the less educated, people who watched a lot of entertainment TV as children were 3% more likely to vote for Berlusconi than their counterparts living in areas where the programmes were not available.

The research also showed that watching entertainment TV early in life was associated with later disadvantages. Those exposed to the programmes as children scored 5% worse in mental performance tests when they reached adulthood.

They were also less likely to report an interest in politics or be involved in a voluntary group.

The study looked at people's voting behaviour during the phased introduction of Berlusconi's entertainment-orientated commercial TV network Mediaset.

During the 30-year roll-out, Mediaset was available in some regions and not others.

Study leader Dr Andrea Tesei, from Queen Mary, University of London's School of Economics and Finance, said: "Our results suggest that individuals exposed to entertainment TV as children are less cognitively sophisticated and less socio-politically engaged as adults, and ultimately more vulnerable to Berlusconi's populist rhetoric.

"Older people, on the other hand, appear to have been hooked by the light entertainment Mediaset provided and were later exposed to biased news content on the same channels."

Watching Mediaset entertainment TV not only increased support for Berlusconi but also other populist parties, such as the Five-Star-Movement led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, said the researchers.

:: The study is published in a working paper from the School of Economics and Finance.

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