Mass Media as a Source of Public Responsiveness
There is a sizable literature finding evidence of public responsiveness to policy change, across a range of salient policy domains and countries. We have a very limited sense for what drives this aggregate-level responsiveness, however. One possibility is that individuals learn at least part of what they need to know from mass media. Work tends to emphasize failures in both media coverage, and citizens; but there is little work exploring the prevalence of relevant, accurate information in media content, or citizens’ abilities to identify and respond to that information. We examine both, through an automated content analysis of 35 years of defense spending reporting, validated by a coding exercise fielded to survey respondents. Results prompt an analysis of a unique set of ANES questions from 1980-1992, tracing both individual-level perceptions of and preferences for defense spending change over time, which illustrates how media might facilitate – but also confuse – public responsiveness.