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Agenda Setting and State Policy Diffusion: The Effects of Media Attention, State Court Decisions, and Policy Learning on Fetal Killing Policy


  • *Direct correspondence to M. R. Oakley, Mount St. Mary's University, Department of Political Science, 16300 Old Emmitsburg Rd., Emmitsburg, MD 21117 〈〉 All data and coding information will be shared with anyone interested in obtaining it for replication of the analysis. I thank the members of the Mount St. Mary's University Faculty Writing Group, Trudy Steuernagel, Karen Mossberger, Caroline Tolbert, Christopher Mooney, Francis Stokes Berry, and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.


Objectives. This study combines theories on agenda setting, policy innovation, and policy learning to develop an improved model of state policy change. The case of fetal killing policy change in the states is used to develop a model that incorporates national media attention and the decisions of state courts, in addition to policy learning variables that account for the policy changes of neighboring states and the passage of time.

Methods. I test the effect of national media attention, decisions by the courts, and the actions of neighboring states on the likelihood that states will change their fetal homicide policies. Using time-series cross-sectional data from 1970 to 2002, the model is tested using logistic regression analysis. In addition to testing the theories mentioned above, control variables in the model include citizen and government ideology and the percentage of state residents who are fundamentalist Protestants.

Results. Three of the four research hypotheses are supported by the statistical analysis. The results demonstrate that increased media attention to fetal homicide in a given year increases the likelihood that a state will change its policy the next year. Support is also found for the hypothesis that state court decisions will affect policy change. One of the control variables, government liberalism, is also found to decrease the likelihood that states will change their fetal homicide policies.

Conclusions. This study lends insight into why states change their policies by including agenda-setting variables such as media attention and decisions made by the courts. States do react to the actions of the courts by making changes to policies affected by the decisions.

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