When does abortion become a political issue among men and women? Illustrating differentiated agenda setting through a quasi-experiment

With Marta Fraile

Agenda setting theory points that traditional media plays a pervasive role in contemporary societies through its influence on the issues that people consider important. Yet, recent developments such as increased selectivity, audience fragmentation and the growing use of social media jeopardize traditional media’s capacity to influence public opinion. Are we entering an era of ¨minimal effects¨? We contribute to this lively debate by exploiting the inclusion of a divisive topic (abortion) in the media agenda during the fieldwork of an online survey conducted among a representative sample of the Spanish population. Through an Unexpected Event During Survey Design (UESD), we estimate the extent to which the inclusion of abortion in the media’s agenda influences men and women’s propensity to consider abortion a political issue, thereby providing an empirical test of gendered media effects at the individual-level. The results reveal media effects of substantive size, but no differentiated effect among men and women. Those interviewed after the topic entered the media agenda are 10 percent more likely to consider abortion a political issue. The paper exemplifies how the UESD identification strategy can be applied to study media effects through observational evidence, with high levels of external validity, especially, in high-choice media environments.

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