Italy was the first Western democracy to experience mass lockdown in response to COVID-19. In the early stages of the pandemic, citizens’ trust in the government increased and journalists “indexed” to institutional sources; however, elite polarization was not long in coming, in tandem with an infodemic. Rooted in this context, this longitudinal study investigates Italian citizens’ positions on an issue which lies at the very heart of democracy: the balance between public health and individual freedoms. Findings indicate that citizens’ opinions did not polarize between extreme communitarian and libertarian stances. On the contrary, a significant majority of citizens expressed strong beliefs in the primacy of public health over their freedoms. Extreme libertarians were only a minority, and their positions were driven by a completely different vision of the news reliability of “older” and “newer” media arenas, different attitudes toward the “official truth,” and different levels of trust in the government to those of extreme communitarians. Implications are discussed in the conclusion.
Citizens, polarization, and the pandemic in the hybrid news media system / Iannelli, L.; Marino, G.; Serani, D.; Valeriani, A.. - (2022), pp. 307-328. [10.4018/978-1-7998-8057-8.ch016]