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Issue Attention Cycle

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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > I, J > Issue Attention Cycle

Issue Attention Cycle 

A systematic cycle of heightening public interest and then increasing boredom with major issues; how long public attention is likely to remain sufficiently focused upon any given issue to generate enough political pressure to cause effective change.

(Anthony Downs. 1972. "Up and down with ecology - the 'issue-attention cycle'" in Public Interest 28:28-50.)


This article was published in 1972, at the height of the environmental movement in the United States, and he uses the environment as the test case for his cycle.

Downs described 5 stages of the issue-attention cycle.

1. The pre-problem stage. Here the problem exists, but commands little public attention.

2. Alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm. The public suddenly becomes aware of the problem and demands emphatically that it be solved.

3. Realizing cost of significant progress. The realization sets in that solving the problem would be very costly and require sacrifice from large parts of the population.

4. Gradual decline of intense public interest. Interest wanes in the problem. Other problems find their way to the "alarmed discovery" stage and the old one is displaced.

5. The post-problem stage. The issue moves into a "twilight realm of lesser attention or spasmodic recurrences of interest." Institutions or policies created in the "discovery" stage may persist however, and continue to work toward the solution to the problem.


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