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Emotion and public attention to political issues

Michael W Gruszczynski, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Which mechanisms underlie the orientation of public attention to political issues? Though research on media agenda-setting has been one of the most successful enterprises in political communication and behavior, little is known of the actual processes that drive this phenomenon. I hypothesize that inherent in all environmental stimuli is emotional information, and that it is this information that drives the linkages between media and public agendas. Using a combination of large-scale automated content analyses of several political issues in the New York Times and public search attention data, I demonstrate that negatively-valenced and arousing coverage work concurrently with the volume of news reports to drive public attention to issues. Moreover, for issues that typically receive lower levels of media coverage, the emotionality of media reports plays an especially important role in predicting the extent to which the public orients attention to those issues. By unpacking the black box of public attention, this research provides a fuller picture of how and why the media are able to set the agenda, and demonstrates how even in the absence of extensive media coverage, the public can and will pay attention to policy issues on the basis of the emotional content of issue-relevant media messages.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

Gruszczynski, Michael W, "Emotion and public attention to political issues" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3559487.