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Putting on the Brakes or Pressing on the Gas? Media Attention and the Speed of Policymaking


Michelle Wolfe is a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin Department of Government.


Media attention is fundamental to the policy process and policy change in punctuated equilibrium theory. In this literature, media attention is usually conceptualized as fomenting or contributing to shifts in attention, positive feedback, and large-scale policy change. This article extends how we understand the role of the media and punctuated equilibrium by arguing that media coverage can also contribute to negative feedback and stability in the political system. Media attention should also slow down the speed of policymaking and the momentum for policy change as new policy participants and problem definitions enter the debate. Using event history analysis, this article tests the effects of media coverage on the length of time it takes legislation, once introduced, to become law for public laws from the 109th U.S. Congress (2005–06). Findings provide support for media attention “putting the brakes” on policymaking. Controlling for other factors, the speed of bill passage slows down as media attention increases. This effect decays over time for high levels of media coverage.