Unpacking Attitudes on Immigrants and Refugees: A Focus on Household Composition and News Media Consumption

David De Coninck, Koen Matthijs, Marlies Debrael, Rozane De Cock and Leen d’Haenens

Media and Communication, Volume 7, Issue 1 (2019), Pages 43–55



This study examines how household composition, news media consumption, and trust in media are related to attitudes towards immigrants and refugees in Belgium, Sweden, France, and the Netherlands. Literature suggests that household members socialize one another and influence attitudes on a number of domains. Additionally, news media affect attitudes of its public, especially attitudes on minority groups, since the public has rather limited real-life contact with these groups. Using structural equation modeling and data from online questionnaire distributed to 6,000 respondents aged 18 to 65, the authors find that:

  • Swedes hold the most positive attitudes towards both immigrants and refugees, while the French are found to be most negative. The Belgians and Dutch hold moderate attitudes. There is also evidence that attitudes on refugees are more negative than attitudes on immigrants in Sweden and France, but not in Belgium and the Netherlands. These results be related to recent terror attacks in France, perpetrated by individuals who posed as refugees. (Belgium and Sweden were also affected by this phenomenon, but attacks occurred more frequently and were more severe in France.)
  • People with a migration background hold more positive attitudes towards both immigrants and refugees than those without. No other socio-demographic characteristic relates directly to attitudes in this model. While household composition is not directly related to attitudes, indirect effects through socio-economic status and media consumption indicate that singles hold more negative attitudes than couples.
  • Public television consumption, popular online news consumption, and trust in media are positively related to attitudes, whereas commercial television consumption is negatively associated with them. Television news consumption proves to be the most important news medium in terms of attitude formation.