The Deficit Debate: Audience Studies
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This chapter draws on the findings of 16 focus group discussions conducted in Glasgow, Surrey and the Midlands over the summer of 2009. The focus groups were drawn from ‘naturally occurring’ groups of people and discussed participants’ media consumption and understanding of the deficit debate. The chapter finds that participants’ views on the deficit were very negative and alarmist reflecting the reporting of the issue in the media. Participants misidentified the key causal factors that drove the rise in the deficit. Rather than seeing the rise as a consequence of a shrinkage of the tax base during a severe recession most participants pointed to elements of public spending that had high and sustained media visibility such as government waste, immigration, welfare, bank bailouts, foreign wars, quangos and the EU. When questioned about what should be done to address the deficit participants advocated addressing the causal factors they identified—such as cutting immigration, welfare and waste. The chapter points to a powerful interaction between low levels of public understanding of the public finances and the impact of emotive media messages.
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