This chapter focuses on public-policy analyses through the lens of agenda-setting. Approaches in this tradition assume that no objective fact is a problem in itself and that any problem needs to be constructed. Problems are necessary preconditions to policy change, but decision-makers’ attention is limited and the competition for attention is fierce. Kingdon has proposed the most useful framework to think about the conditions for reaching the political agenda: feasibility, acceptability in the policy community, costs, public support and receptivity among decisionmakers.
Baumgartner and Jones’ research program has developed an influential coding system to classify attention by topics. This has allowed for the study of agenda-setting dynamics. They have shown that policy change tends to be characterized by Punctuated Equilibria: most policies are stable most of the time and when they finally change, they will tend to change radically. This program has been extended to more than 20 countries within the Comparative Agendas Project (CAP), providing a unique opportunity to compare agenda-setting dynamics across various institutional settings and situations.
To illustrate the possibilities of CAP data, this chapter studies in detail the role of media and lawmaking in France, the UK and the US. We compare, in particular, environmental issues and issues related to police and justice. In line with classical media studies, we look at the extent to which the media may influence agenda-setting and lawmaking. The analysis shows that the relation between media and lawmaking in the area of environmental politics present no clear pattern. They feature attention peaks at different times, while following no clear trend. Police and justice present higher average levels of attention in the three countries, but – again – do not present univocal patterns. While attention has increased in France and the UK, the correlations with the lawmaking agenda are at best temporary. Overall, our quick analysis confirms that the driving forces of media and lawmaking diverge and that their relation, where it exists, is conditional on other factors that we do not observe here.
This type of agenda-setting perspective provides the possibility to look at system-level dynamics and to understand the interaction between different topics. This chapter has illustrated some of the possibilities of this type of data that has allowed a renewal of the study of agenda-setting.
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