Coming Out the Other Side of the Issue-Attention Cycle

In 1972, Anthony Downs published a piece about the “Issue Attention Cycle,”  which specifically looked at the relationship between public opinion and media coverage.  Overall, he observed how an environmental problem “suddenly leaps into prominence, remains there for a short time, and then–though still largely unresolved–gradually fades from the center of public attention.”  Since its publication in the early ’70s, this cycle has been applied to numerous social issues.  Now, in the 10 days since the 2018 Women’s March, we have seen the issue-attention cycle focus briefly on the American Resistance and how it is mobilizing people to engage in resistance in the streets and then move on.

I had the opportunity to experience this cycle first-hand over the past week as I presented some preliminary findings on the most recent Women’s March on Morning Joe, the TakeAway as well as other media outlets.  Although the most accurate estimates report that around 2 million people marched over the anniversary of the Women’s March, attention quickly shifted away from the persistence of the resistance. I discussed this issue of waning/lacking media coverage briefly on the Thom Hartmann show last week, and it was the focus of a piece in Elle as well as Medium.

As President Trump addresses the nation in his first State of the Union tonight, I expect that the media will gloss over the fact that there has been sustained political engagement in the American Resistance since the day the Trump Administration began.  Whether the media cover this issue or not, there is no question that it is having an effect on politics in America and will change the way people engage in Democracy in America for generations to come.