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Agenda Setting. PA 598D February 19, 2008. Agenda setting is. The process by which problems and alternative solutions gain or lose public and elite attention.

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agenda setting

Agenda Setting

PA 598D February 19, 2008

agenda setting is
Agenda setting is
  • The process by which problems and alternative solutions gain or lose public and elite attention.
  • A fierce competition because government and society cannot consider every issue at once--our carrying capacity for dealing with every issue is too small
why is agenda setting so important
Why is agenda setting so important?
  • “E. E. Schattschneider summed up the importance of this ‘agenda-setting’ role of the media when in 1960 he wrote, ‘The definition of the alternatives is the supreme instrument of power.”(found at, quoting The Semisovereign People)
  • Control over the agenda means control over outcomes
  • Agenda setting is therefore about getting on the agenda, and about keeping things from it.
levels of the agenda
Levels of the agenda
  • Universe
    • Any idea out there
    • Some are “out of bounds” politically
  • Systemic: Ideas that are taken up by the system
levels of the agenda5
Levels of the agenda
  • Institutional
    • Multiple institutional agendas
    • Overlap, but are not congruent
    • Evidence: bills, calendars, agendas, etc.
  • Decision: Where a choice is made
the creation of issues
The creation of issues
  • Manufacturing of issues: readjustors
  • Manufacturing of issues for their own gain: exploiters
  • Unanticipated events: “circumstantial reactors” (what we generally now call “focusing events”
  • “Do-gooders”
triggering devices
Triggering Devices
  • Internal
    • Natural catastrophe
    • Unanticipated human event
    • Technological change
    • Actual bias in resource distribution
    • Ecological Change
triggering devices10
Triggering Devices
  • External
    • War: U.S. as direct combatant
    • Innovations in weapons technology
    • Indirect role in international conflict
issue initiation and triggers
Issue initiation and triggers
  • “The dynamic interplay between the initiator and the trigger device”
  • “A link must be made between a grievance (or a triggering event) and an initiator who converts the problem into an issue”
  • Note that not all triggers work the same way, as I note in my article
kingdon s streams metaphor
Kingdon’s Streams Metaphor

Screen clipping taken: 4/2/2005, 1:26 PM

Focusing events reveal problems

other ways of thinking about how issues reach the agenda
Other ways of thinking about how issues reach the agenda
  • Group reactions to other groups’ actions/success
  • Leadership activity
  • Crises and Focusing Events
  • Protest movements
  • Media coverage or activity
  • Changes in indicators
  • Political changes
the relationship between the policy agenda and the media agenda
The relationship between the policy agenda and the media agenda
  • Media coverage can lead to increased public concern
  • But, Kingdon found that the media didn’t drive the agenda in some fields
  • But, the media has considerable power to set the agenda after focusing events
the special role of focusing events
The special role of focusing events
  • “a rare, sudden, well-known, actually or potentially harmful event.”
  • Tend to induce sudden attention to issues
  • Can trigger intensive group interest and activity
  • Focusing events can fade fast on the agenda.
agenda setting and problem framing
Agenda setting and problem framing
  • The agenda space is limited in two ways
    • The number of items on the agenda
    • The number of ways to define the problems on the agenda
  • Agenda competition is therefore about
    • The items themselves
    • The issues being discussed
  • Case Study: Why do kids do violence in schools?
problem framing
Problem framing
  • Why do kids end up doing violent acts in schools? What are your candidate explanations?
groups and power
Groups and Power
  • We all know that some groups have more power than others
  • What is power?
  • Why do some groups have more power than others?
  • How does this relate to agenda setting?
the importance of power
The Importance of Power
  • Politics—who gets what
  • Power—the ability to get what you want and to prevent others from getting power
three levels of power
Three levels of power
  • An actor (“A”) makes actor B do something he or she doesn’t want to do
  • A keeps B from doing the things he or she wants to do.
  • These are what we call the two faces of power. What about the third face of power?
the third face of power
The Third Face of Power
  • A creates and maintains a social structure in which B cannot even imagine taking action to pursue his or her own interests.
  • This sounds like a conspiracy (or Marxist “false consciousness” but is more subtle than this.
  • This is a good way to describe power relations in the United States.
differences in group power
Differences in group power
  • Money
  • Information
    • Size of membership
    • Reasons for membership
  • Direct economic incentives
  • Material inducements
    • Congruence of goals with prevailing ideas and values
conclusion the agenda and power
Conclusion The Agenda and Power 
  • What sort of groups or people have the power to influence the agenda?
  • Why is agenda setting important in gaining and holding power?