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Agenda Setting and Science

In 1963, Bernard Cohen observed that the news media may not tell people what to think, but they do tell them what to think about. This observation was the germ of the idea of agenda setting. Agenda setting proposes that the media agenda is related to the public agenda at any given time and, moreover, that the relationship is causal: The news media cause people to rank issues more importantly on their own agenda of issues that are important to them. Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw first tested this theory with voters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They found that news media agendas (measured using content analysis of major news outlets) were highly correlated with the public agenda (using surveys of undecided voters in the ...

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