Among older Italians, the authors of the study argue, “the larger support for Forza Italia could be attributed to their exposure to the markedly pro-Berlusconi bias of Mediaset newscasts.” The earlier they had been exposed to Mediaset, the more they watched, the more easily they were manipulated when Mediaset anchors sang Berlusconi’s praises. Simple enough.
What about younger Italians? According to the authors, regular consumers of entertainment television preferred Berlusconi because they had poor cognitive skills. That sounds like a dumb Ivy League joke—but the study did find that Italians who watched a lot of Mediaset before the age of 10 performed worse on a series of numeracy and literacy tests. And the more exposure conscripts to Italy’s army had to entertainment television, the more likely they were to be exempted from military service because they had failed to meet its minimum intelligence requirements.
This decrease in sophistication favored Berlusconi, so the theory goes, because populist parties deliberately appeal to voters who are less informed about politics. (Before he became president, Donald Trump famously declared, “I love the poorly educated.”)