Downs - Up and Down With Ecology

Downs - Up and Down With Ecology - Up and Down With Ecology...

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Up and Down With Ecology The "Issue-Attention Cycle" Anthony Downs Although this article was originally written thirty years ago, the basic idea of the "issue-attention cycle" remains valid today. This article originally appeared in The Public Interest , Volume 28 (Summer 1972), pp. 38-50. It was most recently republished in Anthony Downs, Political Theory and Public Choice (Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar, 1998), pp. 100-112. It has been reprinted in numerous sources since its original publication. Because several visitors to this website have requested copies of the original article, I scanned the article from an original copy and have made it downloadable in this section of the website. ( ) American public attention rarely remains sharply focused upon any one domestic issue for very long - even if it involves a continuing problem of crucial importance to society. Instead, a systematic "issue-attention cycle" seems strongly to influence public attitudes and behavior con-cerning most key domestic problems. Each of these problems suddenly leaps into prominence, remains there for a short time, and then - -though still largely unresolved - gradually fades from the center of public attention. A study of the way this cycle operates provides in-sights into whether public attention is likely to remain sufficiently fo-cused upon any given issue to generate enough political pressure to cause effective change. The shaping of American attitudes toward improving the quality of our environment provides both an example and a potential test of this "issue-attention cycle." In the past few years, there has been a remark-ably widespread upsurge of interest in the quality of our environment. This change in public attitudes has been much faster than any changes in the environment itself. What has caused this shift in public attention? Why did this issue suddenly assume so high a priority among our do-mestic concerns? And how long will the American public sustain high--intensity interest in ecological matters? I believe that answers to these questions can be derived from analyzing the "issue-attention cycle." The Dynamics Of The "Issue-Attention Cycle" Public perception of most "crises" in American domestic life does not reflect changes in real conditions as much as it reflects the operation of a systematic cycle of heightening public interest and then increasing boredom with major issues. This "issue-attention cycle" is rooted both in the nature of certain domestic problems and in the way major com-munications media interact with the public. The cycle itself has five stages, which may vary in duration depending upon the particular issue involved, but which almost always occur in the following sequence: 1. The pre-problem stage. This prevails when some highly undesir-able social condition exists but has not yet captured much public atten-tion, even though some experts or interest groups may already be alarmed by it. Usually, objective conditions regarding the problem are
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This note was uploaded on 02/27/2009 for the course POLI 790350 taught by Professor Kelleman during the Spring '09 term at Rutgers.

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Downs - Up and Down With Ecology - Up and Down With Ecology...

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