Consensus without focus
Why news agenda setting expands the public agenda
Generating public consensus on issue priorities is one of the most important functions of news agenda setting. However, the nature of that consensus is not well understood. Agenda setting might build a public consensus focused on a limited set of priorities, but it also has potential to build a consensus that broadens the public’s issue agenda by generating shared concerns about problems beyond the bounds of personal experience. Evidence shows that from 1968–2010, broadcast news’ agenda-setting effect tended to broaden the public agenda rather than focus it. This tendency of news agenda setting to broaden the public agenda is not affected by the news agenda’s breadth or by which issues dominate the news, although issue-level agenda setting effects may, under some circumstances, focus the public agenda. If broadcast news does not focus the public agenda, it is unlikely a focused agenda will be generated by a more fragmented media ecology.
Keywords: consensus, public agenda, most important problem, first level agenda setting, news media agenda setting
Published online: 25 September 2019
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