The politics of prioritization
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Political agenda-setting research primarily studies how political institutions direct policy attention and gives little consideration to individual decision-making (Baumgartner and Jones 2009; Kingdon 1995; Baumgartner et al. 2011). This dissertation examines policymakers’ strategic communications to illuminate the important but less understood agenda-setting patterns of individuals. The normalization of social media platforms, like Twitter, gives U.S. senators a new platform to aggregate their policy priorities into a complex agenda that reveals individual decision-making and prioritization. Senators face pressures from constituents, the party, and the institution that lead them to structure unique agenda setting patterns that have implications for both policy and representation. Using a new dataset of all tweets by U.S. senators, I offer new insight into how individual senators divide their limited attention. First, senators must strike a balance between policy and representation because attention to policy results in less time for constituent issues. Second, for political priorities, there is an asymmetric pattern of partisan attention such that Republicans prioritize politics and use partisan rhetoric more often in their political communication. By using a hybrid media measure like Twitter, I glean useful insight into a politician’s agenda to not only understand how politicians rank issues but more broadly the role of policy, politics and representation within a senator’s agenda.