Thursday, February 12, 2009

National A.D.D.? Chalk it up to the Issue-Attention Cycle

Writing the news round up last week about the public’s waning interest in addressing global warming brought to mind the issue-attention cycle, a theory developed by Anthony Downs.

The basic premise of the issue-attention cycle is that a domestic problem takes center stage, dominates the news media and public conscience for a while, and then gradually fades away though the problem is usually not resolved. The predicament that may result is that public attention may not remain “sufficiently focused upon any given issue to generate enough political pressure to cause effective change.” This is the possible dilemma for global warming as other issues jump to the forefront.

Global warming is not the only potential casualty of the issue-attention cycle. Interest in any major problem can wane, as the high cost of “solving” the problem is realized and people become discouraged, threatened, or bored, and public attention diminishes. During the presidential race, health reform was a major issue. Yet towards the end of 2008, everything shifted as the economy tanked. References to economic issues are everywhere, which is why the economy is at the top of the issue-attention cycle. However, after the passage of the recovery package, we could see other issues return to the forefront.

There are some ways you can tackle the effects of the issue-attention cycle:
  1. Keep communication open even when issues fade from mainstream media, by creating awareness campaigns and speaking to fellow students, colleagues, and government officials.
  2. Connect your cause to the topic currently at the top of the issue attention cycle (job loss, loss of health insurance with unemployment, advocacy for health insurance reform)
  3. Find attention cycle grabbers: find a notable spokesperson, host a big event, associate the event with something else that grabs a lot of attention (President’s Day, Valentine’s Day)
  4. Find the right audience.

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