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The Political Conditionality of Mass Media Influence: When Do Parties Follow Mass Media Attention?

  • Christoffer Green-Pedersen and Rune Stubager
Abstract

Claims regarding the power of the mass media in contemporary politics are much more frequent than research actually analysing the influence of mass media on politics. Building upon the notion of issue ownership, this article argues that the capacity of the mass media to influence the respective agendas of political parties is conditioned upon the interests of the political parties. Media attention to an issue generates attention from political parties when the issue is one that political parties have an interest in politicizing in the first place. The argument of the article is supported in a time-series study of mass media influence on the opposition parties’ agenda in Denmark over a twenty-year period.

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1 Mazzoleni, Gianpietro and Schulz, Winfried, ‘ “Mediatization” of Politics: A Challenge for Democracy’, Political Communication, 16 (1999), 247261; Mathias, Hans Kepplinger, , ‘Mediatization of Politics: Theory and Data’, Journal of Communication, 52 (2002), 972986; Blumler, Jay G. and Kavangh, Dennis, ‘The Third Age of Political Communication: Influences and Features’, Political Communication, 16 (1999), 209230; Schudson, Michael, ‘The News Media as Political Institution’, Annual Review of Political Science, 5 (2002), 249269.

2 Newton, Kenneth, ‘May the Weak Forces Be With You: The Power of the Mass Media in Modern Politics’, European Journal of Political Research, 45 (2006), 209234.

3 Newton, , ‘May the Weak Forces Be With You’.

4 Behr, Roy and Iyengar, Shanto, ‘Television News, Real World Cues, and Changes in the Public Opinion’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 49 (1985), 3857; Page, Benjamin I. and Shapiro, Robert Y., The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans’ Policy Preferences (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992); McCombs, Maxwell, Setting the Agenda: The Mass Media and Public Opinion (Cambridge: Polity, 2004).

5 Walgrave, Stefaan and van Aelst, Peter, ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power: Towards a Preliminary Theory’, Journal of Communication, 56 (2006), 88109.

6 Walgrave, and Aelst, van, ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power’.

7 Walgrave, and Aelst, van, ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power’, p. 104.

8 Petrocik, John, ‘Issue-Ownership in Presidential Elections with a 1980 Case Study’, American Journal of Political Science, 40 (1996), 825850.

9 Cf. Soroka, Stuart, Agenda-Setting Dynamics in Canada (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2002); Walgrave, and Aelst, van, ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power’.

10 Kriesi, Hanspeter, ‘Political Mobilization, Political Participation and the Power of the Vote’, West European Politics, 31 (2008), 147168.

11 Carmines, Edward G., ‘The Logic of Party Alignments’, Journal of Theoretical Politics, 3 (1991), 6580.

12 Kleinnijenhuis, Jan and Rietberg, Ewald M., ‘Parties, Media, the Public and the Economy: Patterns of Societal Agenda-Setting’, European Journal of Political Research, 28 (1995), 95118.

13 Cook, Timothy E., Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

14 Cf. Bennett, W. Lance, ‘Toward a Theory of Press–State Relations in the US’, Journal of Communication, 40 (1990), 103125.

15 Flemming, Roy B., Wood, B. Dan and Bohte, John, ‘Attention to Issues in a System of Separated Powers: The Macrodynamics of American Policy Agendas’, Journal of Politics, 61 (1999), 76108; Brandenburg, Heinz, ‘Who Follows Whom? The Impact of Parties on the Media Agenda Formation in the 1997 British Election Campaign’, Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 7 (2002), 3454; Kleinnijenhuis, and Rietberg, , ‘Parties, Media, the Public and the Economy’.

16 Soroka, , Agenda-Setting Dynamics in Canada; Wood, B. Dan and Peake, Jeffrey S., ‘The Dynamics of Foreign Policy Agenda Setting’, American Political Science Review, 92 (1998), 173184; Walgrave, Stefaan, Soroka, Stuart and Nuytemans, Michiel, ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’, Comparative Political Studies, 41 (2008), 814836.

17 van Noije, Lonneke, Kleinniejnhuis, Jan and Oegma, Dirk, ‘Loss of Parliamentary Control due to Mediatization and Internationalization’, British Journal of Political Science, 38 (2008), 455478.

18 Walgrave, and van Aelst, , ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power’.

19 Walgrave, , Soroka, and Nuytemans, , ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’; Bartels, Larry, ‘Politicians and the Press; Who Leads Whom?’ (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, 1996).

20 Soroka, , Agenda-Setting Dynamics in Canada; Edwards, George C. and Wood, B. Dan, ‘Who Influences Whom? The President, Congress, and the Media’, American Political Science Review, 93 (1999), 327344; Walgrave, , Soroka, and Nuytemans, , ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’.

21 Zucker, Harold G., ‘The Variable Nature of News Media Influence’, in B. D. Ruben, ed., Communication Yearbook, Vol. 2 (New Brunswick, Conn.: Transaction Books, 1978), pp. 225240.

22 Soroka, , Agenda-Setting Dynamics in Canada. Cf. also Walgrave et al., ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’.

23 Soroka, , Agenda-Setting Dynamics in Canada.

24 Walgrave, et al. , ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’.

25 Walgrave, and van Aelst, , ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power’, pp. 9598.

26 Walgrave, and van Aelst, , ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power’, p. 103.

27 Walgrave, et al. , ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’.

28 E.g. Mortensen, Peter B. and Serritzlew, Søren, ‘Newspapers and Budgeting: The Effects of Media Coverage on Local Expenditure Decisions’, Scandinavian Political Studies, 29 (2006), 236260.

29 Walgrave, and van Aelst, , ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power’.

30 Walgrave, and van Aelst, , ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power’, pp. 98101.

31 Carmines, , ‘The Logic of Party Alignments’.

32 Budge, Ian and Farlie, Dennis, ‘Party Competition – Selective Emphasis or Direct Confrontation? An Alternative View with Data’, in Hans Daalder and Peter Mair, eds, West European Party System:Continuity and Change (London: Sage Publications, 1983), pp. 267305.

33 Carmines, , ‘The Logic of Party Alignments’, p. 75.

34 Petrocik, , ‘Issue-Ownership in Presidential Elections with a 1980 Case Study’; Iyengar, Shanto and Kinder, Donald, News that Matters: Television and American Opinion (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987); Walgrave, Stefaan and de Swert, Knut, ‘Where does Issue Ownership Come From? From Party or from the Media? Issue-Party Identifications in Belgium, 1991–2005’, Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 12 (2007), 3767.

35 Sides, John, ‘The Origin of Campaign Agendas’, British Journal of Political Science, 36 (2006), 407436.

36 Cf. Green-Pedersen, Christoffer and Stubager, Rune, Coding of Danish Radio News 1984–2003 (Aarhus: Department of Political Science, University of Aarhus, 2007).

37 Walgrave, et al. , ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’.

38 Lund, Anker B., Den redigerende magt (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press 2002).

39 Cf. Green-Pedersen, and Stubager, , Coding of Danish Radio News 1984–2003.

40 The Danish radio news contains a huge number of features that simply report the ‘state of the world’, i.e. a civil war or an election in another country, with no relation to Danish politics. Such features have therefore not been included in the analysis. It includes events in other countries with relevance to Denmark, however, such as events in countries with Danish peacekeeping troops (cf. Green-Pedersen, and Stubager, , Coding of Danish Radio News 1984–2003).

41 According to the statutes of the Danish parliament, the answer should be provided within a maximum of six working days after the question was tabled (cf. www.ft.dk).

42 Green-Pedersen, Christoffer, ‘Bringing Parties into Parliament: The Development of Parliamentary Activities in Western Europe’, Party Politics (forthcoming).

44 www.policyagendas.org; cf. also Baumgartner, Frank R., Jones, Bryan D. and Wilkerson, John, ‘Studying Policy Dynamics’, in Frank R. Baumgartner and Bryan D. Jones, eds, Policy Dynamics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), pp. 2946.

45 Soroka, , Agenda-Setting Dynamics in Canada.

46 Walgrave, et al. , ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’.

47 Greenland and the Faroe Islands are former Danish colonies that now enjoy some measure of sovereignty. The reason for including them in ‘foreign affairs’ is that media attention concerning Greenland in particular is often related to the US bases there and is thus related to defence and foreign policy.

48 Walgrave, et al. ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’.

49 Granger, Clive, ‘Investigating Causal Relations by Econometric Models and Cross-Spectral Methods’, Econometrica, 37 (1969), 424438.

50 As is well known, when working with time series data it is essential to ensure that any results obtained are not driven by non-stationarity in the data. Since we expect to observe structural shifts in our data due to the political conditionality of media effects, we have opted to use the Phillips–Perron stationarity test, which explicitly takes this possibility into account. The test indicates that all of our series are stationary. See Enders, Walter, Applied Econometric Time Series (Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2004).

51 For questions, the assignment to weeks was based on the date for the answers to the questions.

52 In a few instances, a new government was not formed by the end of the two-week period. In these cases, the dummy variable singles out all weeks until the new government is formed.

53 McCombs, , Setting the Agenda, pp. 4348.

54 Given that the date used for questions is the date they were answered, a one-week lag constitutes an almost immediate effect.

55 Cf. Beck, N. and Katz, J., ‘What to Do (and Not to Do) with Time-series–Cross-section Data in Comparative Politics’, American Political Science Review, 89 (1995), 634647.

56 The choice of this specification over the more prevalent random effects model is based on two premises. First, at the theoretical level, the assumption behind the random effects model that the issue groups included in the model (i.e. the panels in the statistical model) can be considered as a random draw from a much larger population of issues (cf. Kennedy, Peter, A Guide to Econometrics, 5th edn (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003)) seems insupportable. Indeed, the issue groups are seen as encompassing almost all issues of relevance in this context. Secondly, the fixed-effects model is supported at the empirical level, where a Hausman test (cf. Hausman, J. A., ‘Specification Tests in Econometrics’, Econometrica, 46 (1978), 12511271) indicated a vastly superior fit for this specification.

57 Green-Pedersen, Christoffer, ‘Long-term Changes in Danish Party Politics? From Class Competition to Issue Competition’, Scandinavian Political Studies, 29 (2006), 221237.

58 Goul Andersen, Jørgen, ‘Partiernes image: De borgerlige bedst til at sikre velfærden’, in Jørgen G. Andersen and Ole Borre, eds, Politisk Forandring (Aarhus: Systime, 2003), pp. 151170.

59 Green-Pedersen, , ‘Bringing Parties into Parliament’.

60 Green-Pedersen, Christoffer and Thomsen, Lisbeth H., ‘Bloc Politics vs. Broad Cooperation: The Functioning of Danish Minority Parliamentarism’, Journal of Legislative Studies, 11 (2005), 153169. The 2001–03 period, with a right-of-centre government, has been omitted from the analysis because of the short time series.

61 Bartels, , ‘Politicians and the Press’; Wood and Peake, ‘The Dynamics of Foreign Policy Agenda Setting’.

62 Cf. Kennedy, , A Guide to Econometrics. This procedure also minimizes the risk of autocorrelation in the residuals of the estimated models, see Brandt, Patrick T. and Williams, John T., Multiple Time Series Models (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2007).

63 For the application of a similar procedure based on F-tests, see Wood, and Peake, , ‘The Dynamics of Foreign Policy Agenda Setting’.

64 Green-Pedersen, Christoffer, ‘Minority Governments and Party Politics: The Political and Institutional Background to the “Danish miracle” ’, Journal of Public Policy, 21 (2001), 5370.

65 This last effect is probably due to a keen interest displayed by the right-of-centre opposition in contracting out public services and in the related topic of the efficiency of the public sector in general (see below for a discussion of the results for foreign affairs).

66 Newton, , ‘May the Weak Forces Be With You’.

67 Walgrave, et al. ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’, p. 820.

68 Cf. Wood, and Peake, , ‘The Dynamics of Foreign Policy Agenda Setting’; Edwards, and Wood, , ‘Who Influences Whom?’

69 Andersen, Mikael S. and Hansen, Michael W., Vandmiljøplanen. Fra handling til symbol (Harlev: Niche, 1991).

70 Andersen, and Hansen, , Vandmiljøplanen.

71 Laursen, Søren, Vold på dagsordenen. Medierne og den politiske proces (Aarhus: The Danish Power and Democracy Study, 2001).

72 Walgrave, and van Aelst, , ‘The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power’; Walgrave et al., ‘The Mass Media’s Political Agenda-Setting Power’.

73 Cf. Flemming, , Wood, and Bohte, , ‘Attention to Issues in a System of Separated Powers’; Edwards, and Wood, , ‘Who Influences Whom?’; Bartels, Politicians and the Press.

74 Hallin, Daniel C. and Mancini, Paolo, Comparing Media Systems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

75 Mair, Peter, ‘The Challenge to Party Government’, West European Politics, 31 (2008), 211234.

76 Cf. Kriesi, , ‘Political Mobilization, Political Participation and the Power of the Vote’.

77 Newton, , ‘May the Weak Forces Be With You’.

* Department of Political Science, University of Aarhus (email: ). The authors wish to thank Rune Slothuus, Peter B. Mortensen, Peter Nannestad, Lise Togeby, Gunnar Thesen and Stefaan Walgrave for very constructive criticism of earlier versions of this article.

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