Essays on the Impact of Presidential and Media-Based Usage of Anxiety-Producing Rhetoric on Dynamic Issue Attention
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The intention of the project is to determine whether political elites have to discuss an issue using a specific emotional tone before the public and other political elites consider that issue a problem. Research has not yet demonstrated under what conditions elite rhetorical cues can heighten issue attention. Past studies have suggested that an increase in the absolute intensity of elite issue discussion can heighten perceptions of an issue as a problem. The problem with this notion is that within that absolute issue discussion, elites might simply be repeatedly saying conditions related to an issue are stable. They might also be presenting basic factual background information about an issue, a type of discussion unlikely to capture the interest of many in the political system. There has to be a specific type of cue that elites can offer to compel others in the political system to reconsider their outlook on issue salience. Derived from dual systems theories of emotion, the dissertation predicts that issue discussion that heightens feelings of anxiety increases the likelihood of an altered outlook on issue salience. To evaluate this prediction, time series statistical techniques are employed. The time series models evaluate whether prior change in the level of anxietybased cues by the president and the media predict changes in the level of attention the public offers to that issue. The same types of models evaluate whether this form of issue discussion by the president predicts issue dynamics of the media, and vice-versa. The several issues studied are crime, health care, poverty, and the environment. Information spanning thirty years is collected from presidential papers, general and ideological media newspaper coverage, and multiple public survey organizations. The findings suggest anxiety-based issue discussion does have the potential to guide issue attention. Prior changes in anxiety-based cues do predict future levels of attention the public provides to issues. A positive shift in anxiety cues by elites appears to have the capacity to increase public attention to issues. This increase though appears to be very small and abbreviated, suggesting limited effects. Elites do not appear to influence each other through anxiety cues.
Olds, Christopher Paul (2011). Essays on the Impact of Presidential and Media-Based Usage of Anxiety-Producing Rhetoric on Dynamic Issue Attention. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from