The Dynamics of Political Attention: Public Opinion and the Queen's Speech in the United Kingdom


  • An earlier version of the article was presented to the 2007 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, to the 2007 conference of the Elections, Public Opinion and Parties specialist group of the United Kingdom Political Studies Association, Bristol, and to the 2007 General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research, Pisa. We are very grateful for comments made by participants at those events. Suggestions of the journal's editor and four anonymous referees were particularly helpful for improvement of the article. We thank the British Academy for research support through its small grant, The Policy Priorities of UK Governments: A Content Analysis of King's and Queen's Speeches, 1945–2005, and the project coders for their diligent work. Will Jennings thanks the British Academy for additional research support through the Research Fellowship, Vox Pop? The Regulation of Government by Public Opinion. All omissions, errors, and interpretations are of course our own.

Will Jennings is ESRC Research Fellow, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, United Kingdom ( Peter John is Hallsworth Chair of Governance, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, United Kingdom (


This article represents the effect of public opinion on government attention in the form of an error-correction model where public opinion and policymaking attention coexist in a long-run equilibrium state that is subject to short-run corrections. The coexistence of policy-opinion responsiveness and punctuations in political attention is attributed to differences in theoretical conceptions of negative and positive feedback, differences in the use of time series and distributional methods, and differences in empirical responsiveness of government to public attention relative to responsiveness to public preferences. This analysis considers time-series data for the United Kingdom over the period between 1960 and 2001 on the content of the executive and legislative agenda presented at the start of each parliamentary session in the Queen's Speech coded according to the policy content framework of the U.S. Policy Agendas Project and a reconstituted public opinion dataset on Gallup's “most important problem” question. The results show short-run responsiveness of government attention to public opinion for macroeconomics, health, and labor and employment topics and long-run responsiveness for macroeconomics, health, labor and employment, education, law and order, housing, and defense.