Rules of the agenda game: president's issue management, media's agenda setting and the public's representation

Choi, Young Jae
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This dissertation tests interactional agenda setting models of the presidency, the media and the public by examining changes in the president’s issue management, the media’s agenda setting influence and the public’s representation of national issues during the war time presidency of President George W. Bush (February, 2001 – August, 2003). Combining theories of agenda setting and priming strategy, we formulated a macro dynamic model of agenda setting to identify how a set of issues emerges from and circulates among the agendas of the president, the media and the public. vi Employing time series Vector Autoregression (VAR) analysis, we traced four primary issues -- war, economy, domestic and foreign issues -- during the George W. Bush presidency. We also identified determinants that influenced the presidential agenda, media agenda and public agenda. From the interactional agenda setting analysis, our data revealed that President Bush led the war issue, the media led the domestic issues, the public led the economy issue and the president and the media exchanged influences on foreign issue regardless of the public. In the communication strategy analysis, our data revealed that the president gave attention to domestic and economic issues to maintain his popularity, the media raised domestic issues as an alternative issue when presidential popularity declined, and the public persistently held to the economic issue even during wartime. The Cointegration Error Correction model identified the long-term equilibrium relationship between the public’s attention to the economy and presidential popularity. The model indicated that the public sent warning signs to the president when he was not in sync with the preferences of the public. In conclusion, we discuss the implications of this project’s findings from the viewpoint of democratic theory. Overall, American society appears to maintain a check and balance democracy through the media’s vii watchdog-oriented issue coverage and the public’s balanced warning signals toward the president, who increasingly maneuvers issue management to control his own popularity.