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Priming Theory

Shanto Iyengar

Subject Politics
Communication Studies » Communication Reception and Effects

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


The priming effect refers to media-induced changes in voters’ reliance on particular issues as criteria for evaluating government officials. The more prominent any given issue in the news, the greater the impact of voters’ opinions about that issue on their evaluations of government. The priming effect creates volatility in public opinion, especially during election campaigns (→  Public Opinion, Media Effects on ; Election Campaign Communication ). As casual observers of the political scene, ordinary citizens only notice events and issues that are in the news; those not covered by the media might as well not exist. What is noticed becomes the principal basis for the public's beliefs about the state of the country. Thus, the relative prominence of issues in the news is the major determinant of the public's perceptions of the problems facing the nation (see, e.g., Iyengar and Kinder 1987 ). The relationship between news coverage and public concern has come to be known as the →  agenda-setting effect . Over the past four decades, agenda-setting effects have been replicated in numerous studies. Cross-sectional →  Surveys , panel surveys, aggregate-level →  time-series analyses of public opinion, and laboratory experiments (→  Experiment, Laboratory ) all converge on the finding that issues in the news are the issues that people care about. Beyond merely affecting the salience of ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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