Agenda Setting, Public Opinion, and the Issue of Immigration Reform


  • *Direct correspondence to Johanna Dunaway, Louisiana State University, Department of Political Science, 240 Stubbs Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803 〈〉. Dunaway will share all media content data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. The Gallup data cannot be shared and must be purchased through the Gallup organization according to their sales agreement with the authors. The Gallup data sets used in this study were purchased using funds from a 2006–2007 Faculty Research Grant awarded by Sam Houston State University. The authors gratefully acknowledge the comments of Bob Stein and the participants at the UCSD Center for Comparative Immigration Studies Seminar. Any errors remain their own.


Objective. Agenda-setting theory is used to motivate hypotheses about how media coverage of immigration influences public perceptions of its importance. The authors seek to offer a more complete explanation of public opinion on immigration by exploring differences in the effects of immigration news in border and nonborder states.

Method. This article employs content analyses of newspaper coverage of immigration and Gallup public opinion data over a 12-month period (January–December 2006). Respondents' identification of immigration as a “Most Important Problem” is modeled as a conditional relationship between border state/nonborder state residence and media coverage, ethnic context, and individual-level demographics.

Results. Media attention to immigration is greater in border states than in nonborder states; as a result, residents of border states are more likely to identify immigration as a most important problem than are residents of nonborder states.

Conclusions. The analyses point to the importance of geography and news coverage in explanations of public opinion on immigration.