"Agenda Setting and the Rise and Fall of Policy Issues," Government and Politics
(No. 8, November), 1990, 395-415.
Nearly all studies of federal agenda-setting processes focus on how issues achieve
prominence on policy agendas. Seldom dealt with is how some of those issues then
disappear, without any substantial action being taken on them. In this paper the complete life
course of a single policy issue–criminal victimization of the elderly–is examined, and the forces
that caused this issue to rise and fall on the Congressional policy agenda are analyzed.
Abstracted models of those processes–entitled the convergent-voice and the divergent-voice
models of issue ascendence and decline–may prove fruitful for understanding the complete
life course of many similar issues.
"Convergent and Divergent Voice Models of the Rise and Fall of Policy Issues," in
David Protess and Maxwell McCombs (eds.). Agenda Setting. New York: Erlbaum,
Within one decade, the salience of the crime and the elderly issue rose and fell on the formal
policy agenda of Congress, and the same is true for some agency, media, and scholarly
agendas. The decline was not due to public resistance to the issue, for opinion data suggest
that there was a favorable "climate" for the issue throughout this period. Indeed, a national
survey conducted in 1974 for the National Council on the Aging found that 50% of all
Americans thought that "fear of crime" constituted a "very serious problem" for the elderly,
whereas the same question in 1981 showed that 74% of the public thought fear of crime was a
major concern for the elderly. Nor was the decline due to the decrease in crimes against the
elderly. Indeed, Census Bureau indicators suggest that the real level of victimization did not
change for the elderly at all in the 1970s. During the period described by Figures 1 and 2,
rates of criminal victimization of the elderly remained virtually unchanged. There is no
evidence that concern in Washington over this issue waned because of decreasing public
concern, nor that it was driven by shifts in the actual level of the problem at hand. Rather, the
dramatic ups and downs in attention and activity depicted in Figures 1 and 2 appear to be due
to agenda-setting processes that are little understood.