The Nonlinear Effect of Information on Political Attention: Media Storms and U.S. Congressional Hearings

Stefaan Walgrave, Amber E. Boydstun*, Rens Vliegenthart, Anne Hardy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Agenda-setting scholars have claimed that the typical punctuated pattern of governmental attention is a consequence of disproportionate information processing. Yet these claims remain unsubstantiated. We tackle this challenge by considering mass media coverage as a source of information for political actors and by examining the relationship between preceding media information and subsequent governmental attention. Employing data capturing U.S. media attention and congressional hearings (1996–2006), we find that the effects of media attention on congressional attention are conditioned by the presence of “media storms”—sudden and large surges in media attention to a given topic. A one-story increase in media attention has a greater effect on congressional attention in the context of a media storm, since media storms surpass a key threshold for catching policymakers’ attention. We find evidence that the influence of media attention on political attention is nonlinear; agenda-setting operates differently when the media are in storm mode.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)548-570
Number of pages23
JournalPolitical Communication
Volume34
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • attention dynamics
  • Congress
  • information processing
  • media storms
  • news

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