Poster Paper: Tone Deaf: The Gap in the Agenda Setting Literature and US Crime Laws Since World War II

Friday, March 29, 2019
Mary Graydon Center - Room 2-5 (American University)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Stefany Ramos, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Mass incarceration and police brutality have come to the forefront of public attention in recent years. News stories about police body cameras, and rehabilitation programs for low-level offenders give the impression that this attention is producing legislative results, however, there is little systematic evidence that this is true. Agenda setting literature provides several models to explain how policy alternatives build attention to be successfully passed into law, but it does not allow us to understand the direction of that attention. I developed a standardized method of analysis for classifying federal crime laws into tough, soft, mixed, and null policies among several sub-types of crime law. Preliminary analysis confirms some commonly held beliefs, for example, most non-neutral laws are tough on crime and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to pass soft on crime laws. However, the data also reveal some surprising underlying trends, for example, Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to pass tough on crime legislation, and laws addressing prisoner reentry are just as likely to be tough as soft in tone. With data on the tone of legislation, it is possible to better understand the complexity and contradictory nature of our national approach to crime. This data can also further the agenda setting literature by looking not only at the amount of attention received by an issue, but also the type of attention received and revisit the relationship between attention and tone.