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Agenda Setting, Policies, and Political Systems

A Comparative Approach

Before making significant policy decisions, political actors and parties must first craft an agenda designed to place certain issues at the center of political attention. The agenda-setting approach in political science holds that the amount of attention devoted by the various actors within a political system to issues like immigration, health care, and the economy can inform our understanding of its basic patterns and processes. While there has been considerable attention to how political systems process issues in the United States, Christoffer Green-Pedersen and Stefaan Walgrave demonstrate the broader applicability of this approach by extending it to other countries and their political systems.

Agenda Setting and Political Attention brings together essays on eleven countries and two broad themes. Contributors to the first section analyze the extent to which party and electoral changes and shifts in the partisan composition of government have led—or not led—to policy changes in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, and France. The second section turns the focus on changing institutional structures in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain, and Canada, including the German reunification and the collapse of the Italian party system. Together, the essays make clear the efficacy of the agenda-setting approach for understanding not only how policies evolve, but also how political systems function.

272 pages | 28 figures, 11 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Political Science: Comparative Politics, Public Policy


“Christoffer Green-Pedersen and Stefaan Walgrave have admirably assembled a group of contributors who, individually and collectively, bring the tools of policy agenda analysis to bear on the central political features of each of the countries examined. Along the way, the findings demolish prevailing expectations about national politics in thought-provoking ways. Clear and remarkable for its depth of analysis, this is one of the best collections of essays I have ever read.”

David Lowery, Penn State University

“An impressive and broadly comparative collection of studies on political agenda setting. Agenda Setting, Policies, and Political Systems makes clear the importance of issue attentiveness in politics. It also provides a useful compilation of work on the effects both of and on issue attentiveness by legislatures, political parties, and governments in Europe and North America. In so doing, the book makes an important contribution to a growing body of research arguing that the study of agendas can be a particularly powerful means by which to understand and compare politics and policy making.”

Stuart Soroka, McGill University

“The chapters in this volume demonstrate how the study of agenda setting has developed into a theoretically coherent research program. Beginning with the proposition that political attention is scarce and consequential, the chapters pursue this logic by presenting case studies on how issues gain and lose traction, and the interplay between issue agendas and coalition politics, party systems, electoral competition, and legislative outputs throughout Europe and North America. This volume is a must-read for scholars interested in how specific issues rise and fall, and why this process matters.”

James Adams, University of California, Davis

“Green-Pedersen and Walgrave have collected a number of excellent empirical studies of political agenda setting research. . . . Each chapter offers another piece of the theoretical puzzle and can thus enrich readers’ understanding of how exactly political agendas form and how they impact political decision-making. . . . In sum, [Agenda Setting, Policies, and Political Systems] contains a wealth of information on a variety of countries and extended periods of time.”

LSE Review of Books

“This is a remarkable achievement, . . .  a cross-country collaboration of unusual rigor and scope . . . [that] will help many more scholars join in the debate.”

Perspectives on Politics

“Drawing on the political agenda-setting approach, Agenda Setting, Policies and Political Systems explores the dynamics of a broad range of policy issues in different countries. . . . The book reach[es] an important conclusion: the degree to which institutional and traditional political factors influence legislative activities varies across countries, although institutional factors seem to have little effect on average. . . . [The book] should be considered as not only an important scholarly contribution but also a helpful guide to those who are new to the political agenda-setting approach.”

Political Studies Review

Table of Contents


1 Political Agenda Setting: An Approach to Studying Political Systems
Christoffer Green-Pedersen and Stefaan Walgrave

Part I Parties, Elections, and Policies

2 Party Politics and the Policy Agenda: The Case of the United Kingdom
Peter John, Shaun Bevan, and Will Jennings

3 Lawmaking and Agenda Setting in the United States, 1948–2010 36
Bryan D. Jones and Michelle C. Whyman

4 The Evolution of the French Political Space Revisited: Issue Priorities and Party Competition
Sylvain Brouard, Emiliano Grossman, and Isabelle Guinaudeau

5 Party-System Development in Denmark: Agenda-Setting Dynamics and Political Change
Christoffer Green-Pedersen

6 The Policy Agenda in Multiparty Government: Coalition Agreements and Legislative Activity in the Netherlands
Arco Timmermans and Gerard Breeman

7 Agenda Setting and Direct Democracy: The Rise of the Swiss People’s Party
Frédéric Varone, Isabelle Engeli, Pascal Sciarini, and Roy Gava

Part II Issue Priorities and Institutional Change

8 Content and Dynamics of Legislative Agendas in Germany
Christian Breunig

9 Strong Devolution but No Increasing Issue Divergence: Evolving Issue Priorities of the Belgian Political Parties, 1987–2010
Stefaan Walgrave, Brandon Zicha, Anne Hardy, Jeroen Joly, and Tobias Van Assche

10 The Impact of Party Policy Priorities on Italian Lawmaking from the First to the Second Republic, 1983–2006
Enrico Borghetto, Marcello Carammia, and Francesco Zucchini

11 Policy Promises and Governmental Activities in Spain
Laura Chaqués-Bonafont, Anna M. Palau, and Luz M. Muñoz Marquez

12 Diffusion of Policy Attention in Canada: Evidence from Speeches from the Th rone, 1960–2008
Martial Foucault and Éric Montpetit

13 Conclusion: What It Takes to Turn Agenda Setting from an Approach into a Theory
Christoffer Green-Pedersen and Stefaan Walgrave

Notes on Contributors
General Index
Index of Cited Authors

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