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Keywords:

  • agendas;
  • representation;
  • institutions;
  • public opinion

Abstract

Dynamic agenda representation can be understood through the transmission of the priorities of the public onto the policy priorities of government. The pattern of representation in policy agendas is mediated through institutions due to friction (i.e., organisational and cognitive costs imposed on change) in decision making and variation in the scarcity of policy makers' attention. This article builds on extant studies of the correspondence between public priorities and the policy activities of government, undertaking time-series analyses using data for the United States and the United Kingdom, from 1951 to 2003, relating to executive speeches, laws and budgets in combination with data on public opinion about the ‘most important problem’. The results show that the responsiveness of policy agendas to public priorities is greater when institutions are subject to less friction (i.e., executive speeches subject to few formal rules and involving a limited number of actors) and declines as friction against policy change increases (i.e., laws and budgets subject to a greater number of veto points and political interests/coalitions).