Mass Shootings, Gun Control, and Short Attention Spans

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/files/2012/12/news-storiesguns.png

My GW colleague Danny Hayes in the Polisci Perspective feature at Wonkblog:

This phenomenon – the media’s intense interest in, and subsequent boredom with, a public policy problem – is known as the “issue-attention cycle.” A dramatic event, such as a shooting, brings an issue to the media’s attention, prompts an avalanche of news, and then an inevitable decline in coverage. Coverage of natural disasters is a particularly good example. Unless new events continue to draw journalists’ attention, they move on to other, fresher stories. The public then turns its concerns elsewhere, too…

…The media find it difficult to construct a compelling narrative around consensus, so policy issues tend to receive sustained attention only when the parties are engaged in loud, public conflict. That’s a big reason why the “wild political donnybrook” over health care was the top story in the news for much of 2009 and 2010…whether and when politicians in Washington take up the issue in a serious way will determine how quickly gun control recedes from the news pages.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.