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.
Christopher Wlezien is Hogg Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. He holds or has held visiting positions at numerous universities in the United States and other countries. His primary, ongoing research develops and tests a “thermostatic” model of public opinion and policy, and his other major project assesses the evolution of voter preferences over the course of the election “timeline.” He has published numerous articles and chapters as well as a number of books, including Degrees of Democracy and Who Gets Represented? and The Timeline of Presidential Elections. Wlezien was founding co-editor of the international Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, and currently is Associate Editor of Public Opinion Quarterly, Research and Politics, and Parliamentary Affairs, and a member of the editorial boards of a variety of other journals.