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Comparative Agenda Setting




Admissions requirements

Quantitative Research Methods AND Decision-Making Processes AND/OR Comparative Party Systems.

Students who have taken Public Policy Analysis: Agenda Setting or SPOC: Unlocking Policy Neglect: Comparative Agenda Setting are not eligible to enroll in this course.


When discussing policy-making or policy-making failures, spectators often note that important global challenges like climate change, human rights abuses, or economic inequality do not seems to be treated with the same urgency as other
problems, or they are treated inconsistently. The most recent example of such a selective policy attention can be illustrated by the recent criticism of Western governments for only shifting their policy on ISIS after coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, despite those attacks following on the heels of similar and apparently less salient attacks in Beirut.

Likewise, just this last year we saw a large refugee crisis expand in the Mediterranean with public attention focused on the crisis only when a picture of dead children on the beaches of Turkey made the rounds of the internet. Why was this example the trigger rather than the already enormous influx of refugees in the preceding weeks?

Not only does one notice differences between issues, but also between countries. Why are some issues more prominent on policy agendas in European democracies than American ones? Why is the policy discourse in the Netherlands and the reactions to issues different?

Often, analysts respond to such questions with arguments pointing to a lack of resolve or desire on the part of policymakers to address these key challenges; ergo treating the problem as one of simply unenlightened views on the part of policymakers or citizens.

However, agenda setting studies which examine the way that issues rise on fall in the minds of individuals, the mass public, the media, major political actors, and the government suggest a more complicated picture. Ultimately, this perspective rests on examining the fundamental problem of governing in a world where the number of issues that require attention far outstrips the capacity of the public or the state to attend to all of them in the manner they might prefer at any particular time.

Understanding how policy- making agendas are set in the public, the media, and ultimately in important decision-making institutions, and how and why different problems face particular challenges rising to prominence is the first and arguably most vital step to effective action on these issues. Moreover, such understanding suggests different strategies or approaches to advocating for particular issues with the aim of fomenting real policy change in the local and global challenges that so vex us as citizens

Thus, this course will introduce students to the study of agenda-setting theory organized such that the predominant battles over how issues come to be raised and disposed of by democratic government will form a central fault line for many of our discussions.
We will come to see that where one falls on the question of ‘where do governing agendas come from?’ has large implications for what we should expect from contemporary democratic processes and the role of ‘the people’ in that process. Is it top down, bottom up, or in what way and when both?

Course objectives

At the end of this course the student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a more sophisticated understanding of policy issues and how they differ from one another.

  • Appreciate the complexity and challenges involved in governing societies with as many policy demands as citizens but with finite decision-making resources in the form of time and attention.

  • Engage independently with a broad interdisciplinary research programme with familiarity in core literatures of political science, public administration, and communication science.

  • Build a deeper understanding of the specific process by which policy attention can be acquired for issues of concern to the student.

  • Conduct independent quantitative research in pursuit of both a positive (scientific) nature, as well as a normative (advocacy) nature, including collecting original content analyzed agenda data.


Once available, timetables will be published here.


  • 15% - In-class participation Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

  • 15% each - Reaction papers (two) – 300-500 word papers positioning the readings in relation to each other due at least 24 hours before the relevant session (students may select the sessions for which they write the papers within weeks 2-4) Week 2-4

  • 10% - Group case study written report 10% Week 6

  • 5% - Group presentation and discussion of case study in class Week 7

  • 40% - Final research project/essay (3000 words) Week 8


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list



This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact