Panel Paper: The Politics of Partisan Policy Agendas: Measuring Issue Attention in Congress, 1989-2012

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 2:10 PM
Navajo (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Tyler Hughes, University of Oklahoma
In order to better understand how political variables at the uppermost levels of political abstraction — like partisan polarization — shape the policy process, it is vital to identify the policy priorities of the two major political parties.  The concept of issue attention is broadly used when studying the policy process at the subsystem level, but attention is not a concept routinely utilized by scholars examining policy change at the highest levels of institutional decision-making, like Congress (Jones 2001; Baumgartner and Jones 2009).  This study utilizes the concept of congressional issue attention to determine if political factors in Congress can affect change within policy subsystems.

Many scholars have attempted to track party agendas through the use of original bills, roll call votes, or the documents of party policy committees (Cox and McCubbins 2005; Lee 2009; Volden and Minozzi 2013).  Other scholars have identified the one-minute speeches given at the beginning of the legislative day as tools for the parties to send important policy messages (Evans 2001; Harris 2005).   This study will focus on the prevalence of policy topics — identified by the Policy Agendas Project — present in these one-minute speeches in order to build a measure of the policy agendas of each party from 1989-2012.  This measure has the added benefit of allowing for the examination of variation in party agendas both between and within congressional sessions. 

The analysis will consist of two parts.  First, the aggregate time series will be examined in order to see how the parties’ agendas have moved over time with political and institutional variables — e.g. party control of Congress, partisan polarization, and electoral turnover.  Second, the measure of partisan issue attention will be compared to other measures of attention across a variety of institutions and levels of political abstraction.  Taken together, these findings will help us to better understand what shapes the specific policy priorities of the major parties, and whether or not political factors in Congress disrupt dynamics within policy subsystems.

Full Paper: