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Setting the Agenda: Mass Media and Public Opinion, 2nd Edition



Setting the Agenda: Mass Media and Public Opinion, 2nd Edition

Maxwell McCombs

ISBN: 978-0-745-68108-5 February 2014 Polity 208 Pages

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Setting the Agenda describes the mass media’s significant and sometimes controversial role in determining which topics are at the centre of public attention and action. In this new edition of his comprehensive book, Max McCombs, one of the founding fathers of the agenda-setting tradition of research, extends his previous synthesis of hundreds of studies carried out on this central role of the mass media in the shaping of public opinion.

Across the world, the mass media strongly influences how we picture public affairs. In describing this media influence on what we think about and how we think about it, Setting the Agenda also discusses the sources of these media agendas, the psychological explanation for their impact on the public agenda, and the subsequent consequences for attitudes, opinions and behaviour. New to this edition, McCombs debates the role of the expanded media landscape on agenda setting, the impact of the internet on the power of legacy media and the role of agenda setting beyond the realm of public affairs,

This fully updated new edition will prove invaluable to students of media, communications and politics, as well as those interested in the role of mass media in shaping and directing public opinion.


Title page

Copyright page



1: Influencing Public Opinion

Our pictures of the world

Contemporary empirical evidence

The accumulated evidence

Cause and effect

A new communication landscape

Summing up

2: Reality and the News

Idiosyncratic pictures

Perspectives on agenda-setting effects

Content versus exposure

Agenda-setting in past centuries

Summing up

3: The Pictures in our Heads

Pictures of political candidates

Candidate images in national elections

Candidate images in local elections

Media influence on candidate images

Attributes of issues

Attributes of environmental issues

Media influence on issue attributes

Compelling arguments

A third level of agenda-setting

Attribute agenda-setting and framing

Summing up

4: Why Agenda-Setting Occurs

Relevance and uncertainty

Occurrence of agenda-setting effects


Personal experience with public issues

Individual differences, media use and agenda-setting

Summing up

5: How Agenda-Setting Works

Evolution of issue agendas

Explaining the transfer of salience

Timeframe for effects

Diversity of salience measures

Summing up

6: Consequences of Agenda-Setting

Priming public opinion

Attribute agendas and opinions

Forming opinions Attitudes, opinions and behaviour

Agenda-setting role of business news

Summing up

7: Shaping the Media Agenda

The president and the national agenda

Subsidizing the media agenda

Capturing the media agenda

Three election agendas

Media agendas in local elections

Attributes of local issues

Three elements of elections

A broader portrait

Intermedia agenda-setting

Summing up

8: Mass Communication and Society

Transmission of culture

New agenda-setting arenas

Other cultural agendas

Concepts, domains, and settings

Continuing evolution of agenda-setting theory

Epilogue: Media Agenda-Setting and Audience Agenda-Melding

Political agenda-melding

Our need for community agenda-melding



''This second edition of Setting the Agenda continues the exploration and elaboration of the original concept of media agenda setting into a complex and useful theory of the relationships of media, public and policy agendas. It is a comprehensive and readable overview of hundreds of studies on this subject. Beautifully written and clearly organized, it is the definitive work on agenda setting by one of the founders of this branch of empirical research.''
David H. Weaver, Indiana University

''This book illustrates the wide applicability of media agenda-setting theory, nicely organizing research findings from different democracies across the world. In this edition, readers will recognize that agenda-setting continues to be an insightful research paradigm even in the age of new media.''
Toshio Takeshita, Meiji University