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Agenda-setting dynamics in Canada Soroka, Stuart Neil

Abstract

Agenda-setting hypotheses inform political communications studies of media influence (public agenda-setting), as well as examinations of the policymaking process (policy agenda-setting). In both cases, studies concentrate on the salience of issues on actors' agendas, and the dynamic process through which these agendas change and effect each other. The results, narrowly conceived, offer a means of observing media effects or the policy process. Broadly conceived, agenda-setting analyses speak to the nature of relationships between major actors in a political system. This study differs from most past agenda-setting research in several ways. First, this project draws together public and policy agenda-setting work to build a more comprehensive model of the expanded agenda-setting process. Secondly, the modeling makes no assumptions about the directions of causal influence - econometric methods are used to establish causality, allowing for a more nuanced and accurate model of issue dynamics. Quantitative evidence is derived from a longitudinal dataset (1985-1995) including the following: a content analysis of Canadian newspapers (media agenda), 'most important problem' results from all available commercial polls (public agenda), and measures of attention to issues in Question Period, committees, Throne Speeches, government spending, and legislative initiatives (policy agenda). Data is collected for eight issues: AIDS, crime, debt/deficit, environment, inflation, national unity, taxation, and unemployment. The present study, then, is well situated to add unique information to several ongoing debates in agenda-setting studies, and provide a bird's eye view of the media-public-policy dynamics in Canadian politics. Many hypotheses are introduced and tested. Major findings include: (1) there is a Canadian national media agenda; (2) the salience of issues tends to rise and fall simultaneously across Canada, although regional variation exists based on audience attributes and issue obtrusiveness; (3) there is no adequate single measure of the policy agenda - government attention to issues must be measured at several points, and these tend to be only loosely related; (4) the agenda-setting dynamics of individual issues are directly and systematically related to attributes such as prominence and duration; (5) Canadian media and public agendas can be affected by the US media agenda.

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