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Media, Framing and Agenda Setting

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A Teaching Topic in Democratic Institutions and Policy Process 

Media, Framing and Agenda Setting

This topics deals with the role of the mass media in shaping the public agenda. It also examines the ways in which public opinion surrounding specific issues can be partially shaped by the framing of those issues. Courses in this topic area teach students about the impact of framing and the core theories surrounding framing, as well as agenda setting practices. Students learn about the issue-attention cycle and the role of the media in influencing which policy issues move to the active policy agenda of governments.

Core Concepts associated with this Topic: Shaming; Agenda Setting; Ideas in Good Currency; Attentive Public; Issue Attention Cycle; Issue-Framing; Narrative.

Topic Learning Outcome: Students will understand how public opinion can influence policy decisions in between elections, and will be able to explain the role of the media and opinion leaders in helping to shift public opinion and increase support for specific policy actions. Students learn about the importance of "framing" issues in a favourable way, and the necessity that policy leaders face of constructing compelling narratives that support their policy preference.

Suggested Reading

Wagner (NYU) GP1022

Kraft & Furlong, Public Policy: Politics, Analysis and Alternatives, 4th edition (2013) chapter 3, p. 85-end

Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd updated edition (2011) chapters 4-10

Baumgartner & Jones, Agendas and Instability in American Politics, chapters 1 & 2

Toronto PPG1001

Forester, John. 1984. “Bounded Rationality and the Politics of Muddling Through.” Public Administration Review 1: pp. 23-31.

Lambert, Craig. 2006. “The Marketplace of Perceptions: Behavioral Economics Explains Why We Procrastinate, Buy, Borrow, and Grab Chocolate on the Spur of the Moment.” Harvard Magazine (March-April).

Sunstein, Cass R. 1997. “Behavioral Analysis of Law.” University of Chicago Law Review 64: pp. 1175-1195.

Henrich, John, et al. 2001. “In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies.” The American Economic Review 91, 2: pp. 73-78.

Renwick Monroe, Kristen and Kristen Hill Maher. 1995. “Psychology and Rational Actor Theory.” Political Psychology 16, 1: pp. 1-21.

Tversky, Amos and Daniel Kahneman. 1981. “The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice.” Science 211, 4481 : pp. 453-458.

Wilson, Rick. 2011. “The Contribution of Behavioral Economics to Political Science.” Annual Review of Political Science 14: pp. 201-223.

American PUAD 603

B. Guy Peters. 2010. American Public Policy: Promise & Performance. Washington, DC: CQ Press. Chapter 4 (Agenda Setting and Public Policy)

Catherine Smith. 2010. Writing Public Policy: A Practical Guide to Communicating in the Policy Making Process. 2nd edition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Chapter 3 (Definition: Frame the Problem)

Xun Wu, M. Ramesh, Michael Howlett, and Scott Fritzen. 2010. The Public Policy Primer: Managing the Policy Process. London: Routledge. Chapter 2 (Agenda Setting) Chapter 3 (Policy Formulation)

D. A. Wolf and A. Amirkhanyan. 2010. “Demographic Change and Its Public Sector Consequences.” Public Administration Review, Special Issue Symposium.


Crosbey and Bryson, Leadership for the Common Good, Chapters 7 and 8.

Mintrom, Contemporary Policy Analysis, Chapters 1-4

Lowi, T. J. (1972). Four Systems of Policy, Politics, and Choice. Public Administration Review, 32(4), 298-310.

Catherine Smith, Chapter 3 Definition: Frame the Problem, in Writing public Policy, Oxford University Press, 2010. (BB)

Possible Assessment Questions:

1.)   What is the “issue attention cycle” and how does the media influence its development?

2.)   What is “framing”? Provide one example of a policy issue that competing policy actors seek to frame in ways that advance their preferred agenda? Pretend that you are an advisor for a cabinet minister who is set to announce a new policy initiative (of your own choice). Write a one-page memo to the Minister providing advice on how they should frame the issue, and describing the advantages of framing the relevant policy issue in the manner you advise.

Page Created By: Katherine Valiquette and Ben Eisen, last edited 4 November 2014.


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