Need a perfect paper? Place your first order and save 5% with this code:   SAVE5NOW

Agenda Setting Theory


By analyzing public opinion every quarter, two physicians, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw came up with the idea of the agenda-setting theory (AST) in 1972. In 1968, after Lyndon B. Johnson was ousted as President of the United States by Richard Nixon, this idea was established as research. The ‘Chapel Hill Study’ was the name given to the research project.’ It surveyed around 100 individuals from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the surrounding region to determine what they thought of the election’s biggest obstacles. McCombs and Shaw focused on how the election difficulties were contrasted to the conclusions of mainstream media and local reporting as the most basic concerns.

I picked this theory because researchers’ interest in agenda-setting studies has not decreased. According to Y. Kim, Kim, and Zhou, there has been a rise in scholarly articles published on this subject since 2000. (2017) Numerous studies suggest that individuals see the material they’ve been exposed to as important when presented in the media. In other words, the media may affect the public’s perception of an issue, a practice known as “public agenda setting” (Dearing & Rogers, 1996).

“Quantitative processes” and an “empirical methodology” are used by AST (West & Turner, 2018, p. 365). It is divided into two sections: Before theory, there is a conceptualization stage. The media’s connection to its audience and politics was a key issue here, as were gatekeeping, monitoring, and correlation (West & Turner, 2018). During the second stage of development, first-stage researchers provided the groundwork for AST’s theory. In 1972, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw developed the concept via an empirical investigation that examined the political agendas of the general people and the press (McCombs & Shaw, 1972, p. 158).

The media can spread the salience created by their new plan that focuses on agenda-setting. However, the public timetable may help people understand the importance of these issues. Two fundamental premises accompany most research concerning agenda-setting. It is initially assumed that the media and press seldom show reality as it is but rather sift and construct information to meet the needs of the scenario. While it is true that certain problems are more important than others, the media’s attention on a select few causes the public to regard those issues as more important than other matters.

The media plays an important role in keeping the general people informed about current and historical events. The term “mass media” refers to using technological systems to spread a message across a large region to enthrall a large number of individuals. The media, which includes television shows, newspapers, and books, essentially seizes control of the public’s access to all information this way. Therefore, the media use agency theory and gatekeeping to control who has access to news, amusement, and information. Various news sections must be checked before it is released to the public as part of gatekeeping. Journalists and editors act as gatekeepers, controlling who has access to and hears the news. The AST role notion is based only on the duration of this phenomenon after gatekeeping. Different media have varying abilities to determine the plan.

Literature Review

Most people’s worldviews are shaped by what they hear and see in the news media (Cohen, 1963). In light of the abundance of options, the mainstream media is the primary source for most people seeking knowledge about the world around them. The mainstream media have a significant influence in moulding public opinion by choosing and delivering news. The initial agenda-setting concept is based on this common knowledge about news selection (Price & Tewksbury, 1997). Because of how often these concerns are covered in the media, many people believe they are important enough to pay attention to.

Following the 1968 presidential campaign, McCombs and Shaw (1972) were the first to investigate how the mainstream media shaped the plan. Indecisive eligible democrats in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, were asked to identify the most important topics in the presidential race in a cross-sectional study. Respondents’ responses were divided into five different topic groups. After that, they used a ranking system to determine the importance of each of these topics based on the number of people who responded to the survey. Additionally, they gathered information from local media outlets and categorized it into the same five problem categories they had previously used. The media plan was then ranked according to each subject’s quantity of media coverage. Spearman’s rank correlation indicated a substantial connection of 97 between the two topic agendas.

When it comes to creating the public agenda, McCombs and Shaw’s original method was followed by most subsequent agenda-setting research, which looked at the correlation between the media’s narrative of a subject and the people’s interest in it. As a result, media engagement impacts the extent of particular agenda-setting impacts. Wanta and Wu (1992) incorporated media usage as an uncontrolled variable in their research, for instance, by measuring the incidence of media use. They identified five topics that received the greatest media attention in the Southern Illinoisan using content analysis.

Involvement in establishing the plan

There is a clear correlation between the media and public agendas in the first 1968 Chapel Hill research (McComb & Shaw, 1972) and numerous previous studies. When it comes to influencing people’s perceptions of the world, agenda-setting is becoming more and more dependent on numerous elements, including the invasiveness and regularity of the problem, the need for alignment, and political persuasion. Wanta and Ghanem (2007) studied the influence of several methodological parameters on the size of agenda-setting effects, including the number of problems addressed, in agenda-setting studies, given the broad variety of approaches utilized in that study (single issue vs. issue sets). An inquiry’s unit of research (individual vs. aggregate data), the variable under research (media content vs. media exposure), and (cross-sectional survey vs. longitudinal examination) the period under investigation. According to the study’s authors, these methodological aberrations have little impact on agenda-setting studies. Re-examination and exploration of additional variables (i.e., features of studies) will be conducted in this study to investigate the degree of impacts identified in agenda-setting work.

Agenda setting based on issue and attribute

Agenda-setting theory’s unique research technique stresses the news media’s ability to convey issues important to the general public (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). An equally significant subject in news broadcasting is whether and how varied depictions of a problem influence public opinion on this problem. Attribute relevance is thus prioritized above problem prominence in the second level of agenda-setting since it is presumable that “the qualities related to the item in the mainstream press are psychologically attached to the object by the public” (Wanta et al., 2004, p. 367). To begin with, a study by Benton and Frazier (1976) found that the mainstream press influenced general awareness of suggested solutions and detailed understanding of policy suggestions. As Becker and McCombs (1978) found, the news media influenced public perception of aspirants for president by highlighting specific cognitive features of their image and influencing the public agenda. Most empirical research has shown evidence for this characteristic agenda impact. The traits people associate with an object, either person or candidate, heavily depend on media attention.

The news media’s role in agenda-setting.

The role of the news media in influencing public opinion is undeniable. Research on mainstream media has spanned over forty years, from newspapers to publications, television, the internet, social media, print media, and online media. One of the key reasons for speculating that the consequences of agenda-setting may differ among media channels is each platform’s unique ability to convey significant societal issues (Chaffee & Metzger, 2001). Newspapers tend to devote more room to reporting important stories than magazines or TVs (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). When it comes to providing extensive scope of numerous topics, internet content is more favorable, but they also permit a high degree of exposing participants, which may limit their ability to attract the public’s consideration of essential concerns.

However, the results of an empirical investigation are mixed. More evidence suggests that newspapers have a greater impact on setting the news agenda than broadcasting news does (McClure & Patterson, 1976). As a result, newspapers can better capture the public’s recognition and provide more room for prompt problems. However, in countries other than the United States, this contingent impact of media platforms on agenda-setting impacts may not be the same. Strömbäck and Kiousis (2010) did not find any proof of variations regarding media routes in their investigation of agenda-setting impacts during the 2006 Swedish legislative elections. As a result, the challenge of whether mainstream press agendas influence public agendas is still open to debate.

Agenda-setting research time lag.

The time lag, also known as the timespan in several agenda-setting research, is an important element. Time-lag choice is essential because it illustrates the time-varying direct impact. For the media exposure to have the biggest influence on the public discourse, a long-term frame is essential. As a result, both concerns and traits become more important to the general public due to their regular appearance on the media plan. There is a wide range of opinions on what constitutes an “optimum effect span.” Some of the recommended time frames are a week to two weeks for channel news broadcasts, three to four weeks for newspapers, and eight weeks for national news publications.

There is a broad variety of periods, from a few days to months, with the impact of agenda-setting varies based on the study’s time-lag option. According to Roberts and her colleagues (2002), a time lag of seven days revealed the most significant correlations among time delays of one day to six days when examining agenda-setting impacts on four concerns. They also found that the impact of a six-month time lag was somewhat greater than that of three months. It’s worth noting that, depending on the situation, a somewhat long lag time could be advantageous. When it comes to creating public policy, “the status of chronic accessibility in the public’s minds, wherein momentary ups and downs in media salience have minimal influence on perceived significance” is more important than short-term fluctuations in media prominence. It is not always the case that “the longer, the better” holds when it comes to the news media’s ability to create public objectives.

Case Analysis

A person’s actions and attitudes are frequently influenced by their thoughts. What this implies is people’s knowledge, belief, and thinking. Consequently, the media’s role in shaping the agenda indicates a potentially enormous effect whose full measure and implications have not yet been fully acknowledged and studied. To better understand how necessary gatekeeping’s compromised function is, it is essential to show how important the existing AST of political and press communications studies is. A method was devised to enable the public to adapt to various political, economic, and social alterations in the political contests by an increasingly prominent notion of the responsibility provided by the press. The study aimed to develop a reconciliation paradigm to understand better the rising concentration of ownership and decreasing competition in the printing press. Because of this, social science and electronic media study and real-world occurrences were spurred to investigate democracy’s quality and robustness, as well as the civic capacity of its population.

For example, the U.S. presidential election of 2000 was one of the most dramatic stories that drew worldwide interest. That election cycle is remembered as one of the most surprising, tight, and exciting in the politics of the United States of America. Election results were predicted before the vote (Levy, 2021). The country had seen a surge of economic growth, and vice president-elect Al Gore was well-known for his charismatic governance and high levels of public favor. Gore was predicted to be the next leader of the United States of America by electoral model systems based on political theory. Gore had a commanding advantage in the surveys from the start. Gore’s inclusion in the 2000 presidential election triumph seemed certain (Levy, 2021). As the election drew closer, Gore did all he could to distance himself from President Clinton’s administration.

As a result, he never enlisted the help of Bill Clinton, who was leaving office as president at the time. In the end, Gore won the popular vote with 51% of the vote, but Bush won the electoral vote and was elected the next leader of the United States. The media and political academics have missed Clinton’s estrangement from the public (Levy, 2021). Never did this go unnoticed by the general population. As a result, we can say that although the media, political institutions, and academia all exert considerable impact on the general public, events needing national awareness, such as polls, always place a greater emphasis on the attitudes and knowledge of the general population.

Setting a plan is all about making certain topics more prominent in the news and influencing people’s views on certain topics. Public influencers’ prominence in the news has led many individuals to abandon a neutral attitude and form their own opinions about them. People’s views and problems of importance are linked through correlative linkages. Consider, for example, the evaluation of the five U.S. presidential nominees from 1980 to 1996, which shows a shocking promising correlation between the mainstream press focus patterns that were different all through these voting processes and the amount of the public who demonstrated their ambiguous viewpoints on candidates by exploring the mid-point of their various classes (Wilm, 2022).

There were twenty-four analyses of public sentiment and media prominence of aspirants in the national election assessed by the mainstream media, and the average value of each of these evaluations was –90. The media reported strong negative connections due to the general media’s emphasis on a small percentage of individuals picking the neutrality median (Mccombs, 2008). As a result, the priming aspect that controls people’s opinions of public figures appears as the best consequence of problem salience and objectivity. The news media, particularly television, shapes public perceptions of contestants, administrations, legislation, and presidents running for public office by emphasizing some issues while ignoring others.

Citizen attention serves as the psychological underpinning for priming. Public attention can not span the breadth of what is reported in the media, as per Vanderwicken (1995). For instance, the inability of the tremendous news reporting about the Clinton-Lewinsky controversy in the United States to set the voter’s ideology and deviate to popular sentiment, an initiative that failed irrespective of its constant and humongous reportage that was frequently described as ‘All Monica, all the time’ vociferously talks about the constraints of the mainstream press when it relates to affecting the public. Public perceptions of the president’s performance in the United States were formed by disregarding that controversy and ignoring its importance as a basis for their opinions.


The mass media employ this idea to create images in the minds of citizens about their surroundings, and the people are profoundly affected by these images and the substance of those pictures. The impacts of agenda-setting in the mainstream media have far-reaching consequences beyond the images formed in individuals’ minds. Concerning the conventional and innovative mainstream of agenda-setting, the importance of public issues, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the shifting importance of public issues on the media’s agenda usually serves as the foundation for people’s opinions about the overall outcomes of public figures running to be elected to public office. Furthermore, the prominence of a leader in the mainstream media is related to whether or not that individual has any political beliefs. Because agenda setting includes basic salient characteristics linked within the cognitive pictures of these prominent people, it demonstrates the merging of elements of agenda-setting with the development of view and shifts in public opinion and behavior. Individual actions, ranging from university application applicants to voting on election day, are influenced by realistic pictures presented by the mass press. Those implications go beyond the expression of opinions and attitudes.


Alverna University. (2019, February 20). The agenda-setting theory in mass communication. Alvernia Online.

Becker, L. B., McCombs, M. E. (1978). The role of the press in determining voter reactions to presidential primaries. Human Communication Research, 4, 301-307.

Chaffee, S. H., Metzger, M. J. (2001). The end of mass communication? Mass Communication and Society, 4, 365-379.

Dearing, J. W., Rogers, E. M. (1996). Agenda-setting. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Levy, M. (2021, October 31). United States presidential election of 2000. Encyclopedia Britannica.

McClure, R. D., Patterson, T. E. (1976). Print vs. network news. Journal of Communication, 26(2), 23-28.

Mccombs, M. (2008). Setting the agenda: The mass media and public opinion.

McCombs, M. E., Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36, 176-187.

McCombs, M. E., Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36, 176-187.

Price, V., Tewksbury, D. (1997). News values and public opinion: A theoretical account of media priming and framing. In Barnett, G. A., Boster, F. J. (Eds.), Progress in the communication sciences (Vol. 13, pp. 173-212). New York, NY: Ablex.

Roberts, M., Wanta, W., Dzwo, T. H. D. (2002). Agenda setting and issue salience online. Communication Research, 29, 452-465.

Strömbäck, J., Kiousis, S. (2010). A new look at agenda-setting effects—Comparing the predictive power of overall political news consumption and specific news media consumption across different media channels and media types. Journal of Communication, 60, 271-292. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01482.x

Vanderwicken, P. (1995, May 1). Why the news is not the truth. Harvard Business Review.

Wanta, W., Ghanem, S. (2007). Effects of agenda setting. In Preiss, R. W., Gayle, B. M., Burrell, N., Allen, M., Bryant, J. (Eds.), Mass media effects research: Advances through meta-analysis (pp. 37-52). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Wanta, W., Golan, G., Lee, C. (2004). Agenda setting and international news: Media influence on public perceptions of foreign nations. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 81, 364-377.

Wanta, W., Wu, Y. C. (1992). Interpersonal communication and the agenda-setting process. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 69, 847-855.

WAXMAN, 0. B., & FABRY, M. (2018, May 4). From an Anonymous tip to an impeachment: A timeline of key moments in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Time.

West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2018). Introduction of communication theory. – Share research.

Wilm, J. (2022). Presidential elections 1972 – 2008. Digital Scholarship Lab.


Don't have time to write this essay on your own?
Use our essay writing service and save your time. We guarantee high quality, on-time delivery and 100% confidentiality. All our papers are written from scratch according to your instructions and are plagiarism free.
Place an order

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Need a plagiarism free essay written by an educator?
Order it today

Popular Essay Topics