Public Opinion 1 Running head: PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND AGENDA SETTING Capstone Project Public Affairs and Agenda Setting: Passive Onlookers or Active Participants Department of Defense Joint Course in Communication Group III Class 2000-C Randy Midgett, Carmen Cordoba, Michael Pope, Michael Birmingham Public Opinion 2 Abstract Public confidence in the military is at a twenty-five year high since it reached an apex after the Gulf War (Gallup, 1999). Since a low in 1995 of $255 billion in defense appropriations, the defense budget has steadily risen to a proposed authorization likely in excess of $300 billion for Fiscal Year 2001(Wolfe, 2000). The increase in defense spending appears to have the support of Americans (Gallup, 1999, May). If public opinion does have an effect on defense appropriations, then what effect does military public affairs have on public opinion? Is public opinion merely a function of media agenda-setting (McCombs & Shaw, 1972), or can the military help set the agenda? At least two studies suggest military public affairs can help shape the agenda and have a positive effect on public opinion (U.S. Army OCPA, 1998; NORAD, USSPACECOM, & AFSPCOM, 2000). Based on this prior research, two hypotheses are advanced: (H1) Defense appropriations are positively correlated with public opinion of the military, and (H2) Military public affairs communications campaigns positively influence media agenda-setting. A methodological framework is discussed to test these hypotheses. . Public Opinion 3 Public Affairs and Agenda Setting Public confidence in the military is at a twenty-five year high since it reached an apex after the Gulf War (Gallup, 1999, June). The military as an institution consistently receives the highest public confidence ratings of twenty-six institutions according to annual Gallup polling (1999, June). Even after the Vietnam War, the military consistently received confidence ratings above 50% since the poll began in 1973. The military lagged only behind organized religion until it surpassed it for good in 1986. (Gallup, 1999, June). The sex scandals that plagued all the services during the nineties – Tailhook and the Navy, Aberdeen and the Army, and Lieutenant Flinn and the Air Force – appear to be nothing more than momentary public disapproval of the individual services (Gallup, 1997, May; July, 1997). Americans view foreign interventions to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo in terms of presidential policy not as military successes or failures (Gallup, 1993, October; 1994, July, 1994; July, 1997; 1999, April). Currently, defense spending is at the lowest levels, as a percentage of gross national product, since before Pearl Harbor (Bandow, 2000). However, in real dollars, the pre-World War II GNP of $96.5 billion is about $1.2 trillion in today’s dollars. Compared to the GNP of $8.7 trillion in 1999, one percent of GNP today, means eight times as much spending as in 1940 (Bandow, 2000). Since a low in 1995 of $255 billion in defense appropriations, the defense budget has steadily risen to a proposed authorization likely in excess of $300 billion for Fiscal Year 2001(Wolfe, 2000). The increase in defense spending appears to have the support of Americans. A May, 1999 Gallup Poll states that 63% of Americans believe the United States’ military Public Opinion 4 spending is “too little” or “about right.” Although the percentage is down from 71% taken in a November 1998 Gallup Poll, it is higher than the 44% polled in 1990, and 55% polled in 1993 by Gallup (May, 1999). The eight-percent decrease over six months may, in fact, have more to do with United States involvement in Kosovo than any sudden change in public opinion on defense spending (Gallup, 2000, May). Public Affairs Perspective Due to the institution of an all volunteer military, there is a declining population of congressional members, media elite, and the general United States population at large that have served in the military. This decline could have a direct negative impact on defense appropriations and support to military issues by members of Congress if public confidence in military wanes. We suspect that public opinion impacts congressional voting on military issues and that military public affairs can influence public opinion through better understanding of agenda-setting theory (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). Public affairs professionals can cultivate support for military issues by developing, improving and maintaining full public understanding and support of our missions through its various programs. Public law forbids the use funds appropriated by Congress to pay for any public relations campaigns intended to influence in any manner a member of the Congress to favor or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation or appropriation by Congress unless they expressly authorized it. This includes the use of news releases (Reg?). Therefore, It is not the intent of this study to propose a plan to help public affairs professionals influence any elected officials directly. Rather, it is intended to demonstrate that through regular public affairs activities, the general public develops Public Opinion 5 high confidence in the military through education on subjects of widespread concern to the military. Congressional voting patterns on military appropriations can then be directly attributed to the high public confidence in the military. Literature Review Agenda-Setting As early as 1922, newspaper columnist Walter Lippman reflected on the power of the new media to present images to the public. Lippman believed the experiences of the average person was limited and the media provided a view of the outside world (1922). Long (1958) and Lang and Lang (1959) asserted media power over what people talk about, think about, feel about and the way problems should be dealt with. Political scientist Bernard Cohen (1963, p. 13) summed up the early study of media agenda-setting succinctly when he noted that the media “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling people what to think about. Early research focused on attitude and behavior change from media generated awareness and presentation of information and found very limited influence (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997). The seminal empirical study of agenda-setting theory was McCombs’ and Shaw’s (1972) study of the mass media and its effect on public opinion during the 1968 presidential campaign. Their focus was on awareness and information, not attitude or behavior change. They assert those editorial decisions by newspapers and broadcasters play an important role in shaping political reality. Media observers not only learn about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue. Importance is manifested through the amount of information in a news story and its Public Opinion 6 placement in the newspaper or broadcast cycle. Therefore, in reporting what candidates are saying during a campaign, mass media may well determine the important issues through editorial decisions, thus setting the agenda (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). Published nearly contemporaneously with McCombs and Shaw (1972) was a study conducted by Funkhouser (1973) who looked at the relationship between public opinion and media content. He conducted a content analysis of the three major newsmagazines: Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report for each year of the 1960s focusing on the major issues of the decade. Funkhouser (1973) found a strong correlation between the issues the public thought important and the issues the newsmagazines were giving coverage to. These results were consistent with agendasetting theory; however, the causal direction was still a question. Perhaps it was the publics’ interests that were setting the media agenda (Severin & Tankard, 1997). The concept of “framing” developed in the early 1980s to describe how the media can focus attention on an issue. Lang & Lang (1983) studied the relationship between the press and public opinion during the Watergate era and suggest that more complicated issues go through a process of agenda-building. They find that putting the issue in a frame of reference over time, using language that could be easily understood, gave the issue clarity to the public at large. Finally, greater importance will be place on the issue by the public if a well-known person discusses the issue (Lang & Lang, 1983). Stone and McComb (1981) conducted a study to determine how long it takes for media content to have an effect on the public’s awareness. They studied public opinion data and media content over an extended time period and show that a period of two to Public Opinion 7 six months is necessary for issues to crystallize from the media agenda to the public agenda. Other studies showed shorter time spans but could have been affected by the importance of the issue to the public (Winter & Eyal, 1980; Shoemaker, Wanta & Leggett, 1989). Understanding time span is important for public affairs professionals. Public communications campaigns can be planned better if it is understood how long it takes to raise an issue into public awareness Severin & Tankard (1997). Just who sets the media agenda and what makes it change? Westley (1976) suggests that in some instances pressure from special interest groups can elevate an issue onto the media agenda. Another influence is the effect of elite media such as The New York Times on other media. Danielian and Reese (1989) refer to this as intermedia agenda-setting. This process was well-documented in Crouse’s The Boys on the Bus (1973) which document the press coverage of the 1972 presidential election campaign. Reporters from other news media looked over the shoulder of New York Times reporter R. W. “Johnny” Apple, Jr. to see his lead story so they would know what to focus on in their stories. Other evidence suggests public relations practitioners are becoming savvier about agenda-setting. Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, Larry Speakes, was particularly adept at arranging photo opportunities that encouraged favorable press coverage of the president (Reese, 1990). George Bush’s 1988 campaign was equally adept at manipulating media coverage by framing a single issue every day in a made for television setting (Katz, 1988). Was the election of Reagan and Bush as president a coincidence, or did these agenda-setting techniques have a casual effect public opinion and voting behavior? Public Opinion 8 Public Opinion British Member of Parliament and Ambassador to the United States, James Bryce, posited the question in 1889, “What is public opinion?” Mark Twain asserted public opinion settles everything likening it to the voice of God. President Lincoln held a similar view citing, “public opinion is everything … With it nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” A bit more cynical was founding father James Madison who stated, “I know more about Kamchatka than I do about Georgia.” Perhaps an early admonishment to what can be perceived as the whims of public opinion was Plutarch, “To be turned from one’s course by men’s opinions, by blame, and by misrepresentation, shows a man unfit to hold an office” (Bogart, 1985). The observation preferred here is of Gunnar Myrdar when he stated, “Americans have, more than any other people I know, a willingness to change their opinion” (1968). This pliability of public opinion that Myrdar purports characterizes Americans, and suggests a diversity of open minds that military public affairs can help shape. The common understanding of public opinion that most theorists have adopted and that will be used here is, “that public opinion consists of the views held by members of the general public about subjects of widespread concern” (Chisman, 1976, p.2). The idea of public opinion is closely associate with democracy. Early liberal thinkers such as Bentham and Mills were the first democratic theorists to commonly refer to public opinion. More extensive discussions of the concept have been conducted by Tocqueville, Bryce, and Lippman (Chisman, 1976). The idea of public opinion affecting elections and government policies through widespread enfranchisement is a democratic notion (Dahl, 1971, 1989). Scholars are Public Opinion 9 mixed on the effect of public opinion on democratic institutions. Mayhew (1974) notes the dominance of incumbents in congressional races. Burnham (1990) charts the decline in voter turn-out and Ginsberg (1990) argues the lack of institutional response to public needs. However, Page and Shapiro (1983, 1992) find that public opinion tends to precede policy change. Other scholars have found similar results that support the democratic theory that governments should respond to public opinion (Jacobson, 1985; Risse-Kappen, 1991). Defense spending reflects a policy matter of national security that is of supreme importance to all United States citizens. How much influence, if any, should public opinion have over national security? National security policy is typically regarded as an area requiring some expertise, access to privileged information and best left to those in government responsible to the common defense (Almond, 1950; Lippman, 1955). If a threat to national security existed and was unnoticed by the public at large, it would be expected for those who govern to act contrary to popular public will. However, in the absence of such danger, policymakers might also act contrary to popular will (Russett, 1991). Hypotheses Understanding agenda-setting and its effects on public opinion is important to the military public affairs professional. Although the scope and process is still not understood (McCombs, 1981) and needs further research (McQuail, 1984), there is supporting evidence that agenda-setting as a concept should be taken seriously (Severin & Tankard, 1997). Understanding the implications of time lag, framing, who is elite media, and who sets the agenda is important for military public affairs. These Public Opinion 10 variables can be manipulated by the savvy public affairs professional to help shape the agenda. A well thought out public communications plan using communications theory can change military public affairs from passive onlooker to aggressive participant. Our first hypothesis we advance is: H1: Military public affairs communications campaigns positively influence media agendasetting. McGuire’s (1989) theoretical foundations of campaigns is a communication persuasion theory adaptable to military public affairs campaigns. It is well-suited for communication campaigns that must reach large audiences to change their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. He characterizes two sets of components as an “input/output” matrix to be manipulated and measured when planning and evaluating communication campaigns. The list of input variables provide options to the communications planner when designing the campaign. The input components are McGuire’s (1989) independent variables that are manipulated to achieve certain outputs. The input components are sources, messages, channels, receivers, and intent. The source variable refers to the characteristics of the person who presents the message to the public. Sources can vary in number, demographics, and credibility. Messages may vary in types of appeals, information presented, organization, and repetition. The channel variable refers to the mass medium through which the message is transmitted to the public. It can also refer to delivery style and context. Receivers are the target audience. Like sources, receivers can vary in number, demographics, and lifestyles. The campaign’s intent reflects the beliefs, attitudes, and/or behaviors the planner desires to change and is the goal of the communications campaign (McGuire, 1989). Public Opinion 11 McGuire’s (1989) model identifies twelve output variables that are measured by examining the reactions of the public to the sources, messages, channels, receivers, and intent. The output variables are endpoints in a communication campaign and can be used to determine the campaign’s level of success. Exposure, attention, liking and comprehending the message are fundamental to a communications campaign. They refer to getting the messages out to a wide audience, with clarity, appeal and, understanding. Acquiring skills, changing attitudes, remembering, and retrieving information are the basis for long-term changes in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Deciding to act, behavior change, reinforcing a decision are the long-term changes communications campaigns often seek. Consolidating the results is essential to any communication campaign. Only through evaluating results can a campaign planner determine the success of the communications campaign (McGuire, 1989). McGuire’s (1989) campaigning theory is similar to the Department of Defense (DOD) Instruction governing public affairs guidance (PAG) (5405.3, 1991). PAG is a process by which military public affairs develops a coordinated response to a command issue that may generate public interest. This ensures that spokespersons speak with a single voice. The PAG template is flexible such that it can be used at any command level from small units and installations to DOD level issues. Like McGuire’s (1989) inputs, PAG identifies whom the spokesperson(s) is/are, it outlines the themes and messages, with potential questions and answers, that will be communicated and to whom they will be targeted (5405.3, 1991). PAG identifies the approach to media coverage similar to McGuire’s (1989) channels. An active approach involves efforts to stimulate media and public interest including inviting them to the Public Opinion 12 activity. A passive approach involves no efforts to generate public and media interest beyond responding to inquiry. The approach will often dictate the intent of the communications plan. Public Communications Case Studies At least two military public affairs communications campaigns using the DOD model suggest public affairs professionals can help shape the agenda and have a positive effect on public opinion (USAOCPA, 1998; SPACECOM, 2000). The U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (1998) used an extensive communications campaign to help restore public confidence in it as an institution after the sexual misconduct scandals of 1996-97 (Gallup, 1999, July). The majority of editorials, while condemning the individual transgressors, reacted positively to the Army’s aggressive stance. The combined efforts of the North American Aerospace Command, U.S. Space Command, and Air Force Space Command (2000) to mitigate Y2K hype resulted in a decrease by half of public concern for the effects of Y2K on United States strategic systems (Gallup, 1999, December). The U.S. Army and Sexual Harassment The U.S. Army (USAOCPA, 1998) faced harsh criticism across the ideological spectrum in early 1997 with the discovery of widespread sexual misconduct primarily throughout the Army’s training installations. An institution entrusted with America’s sons and daughters was losing its image as a trustworthy institution and a declining pool of recruits seemed imminent (USAOCPA, 1998). The Army studied the lessons of the Navy’s Tailhook sexual harassment episode, its own West Point groping scandal, and Public Opinion 13 other public affairs case studies and quickly understood that recovery was possible as long as the Army maintained its credibility. The U.S. Army (USAOCPA, 1998, p.1) believed credibility would only come from “quick, forthright, contrite admissions of deficiency, media access to senior leaders, and unfettered access to service personnel and their daily business.” The U.S. Army (USAOCPA, 1998) set three main goals for its communications plan: (1) rebuild and regain America’s trust, (2) recover recruiting targets, and (3) retain independence in corrective actions. The communications methodologies employed by the U.S. Army (USAOCPA, 1998) ensured aggressive and open communications with the public, cultivating confidence with each audience, and providing a framework of expectations regarding resolution. The primary tactic was ensuring “everyone spoke with one voice.” This required a convenient, centralized database of public affairs guidance with themes and responses to queries (USAOCPA, 1998). Executing the plan required balance between the public’s right to know and rights of the accused and the victims. After the initial announcement by U.S. Army leadership in the Pentagon, several Army leaders quickly seized the opportunity to speak on major network news of what the Army was doing about the misconduct. Army leaders conducted 212 live interviews, including 16 in 17 days by the Army Secretary Togo West, and facilitated 223 visits to affected posts. The primary target audience, the American public, was served through these interviews with directed messages of regret and a commitment to correct the problem (USAOCPA, 1998). Public Opinion 14 Media analysis determined a positive reaction to the U.S. Army’s aggressive course of action. The Army enhanced its standing with the public, female recruiting surpassed recruiting goals, and re-enlistment was up. Army public affairs determined their goals had been met and the communications plan a success (USAOCPA). Y2K and U.S. Strategic Systems The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), U. S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), and Air Force Space Command (AFSPCOM) faced a daunting task as the new millennium approached. The tri-commands, led by a single commander-in-chief, are responsible for strategic warning, defense satellite systems, and strategic response systems. In early 1999, they set about the task of reassuring national and international publics that widespread predictions permeating the news cycle of catastrophic civil and defense infrastructure failure due to Y2K computer problems were simply not true. Of particular public affairs significance was the concern for similar Russian systems and a Gallup (1998, December) poll showing nearly one-third of the American people believed a nuclear power or defense accident was likely. To assuage the fears, the two nuclear superpowers agreed to establish a Center for Y2K Strategic Stability (CY2KSS) to share missile warning information and guard against strategic miscalculations. The CY2KSS was to be located on the same installation as the tricommands headquarters, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. These factors convinced the tri-command’s public affairs officials to develop a comprehensive communications plan to educate the public. Public Opinion 15 The tri-command public affairs communications plan (SPACECOM, 2000) envisaged a dynamic, year-long campaign to educate the media and reassure national and international publics that there would be no inadvertent nuclear exchange between the superpowers. The plan was flexible to deal with changing information and new measurement results as the tri-commands completed operational evaluations on their strategic computer systems. To ensure public confidence, the media had unprecedented access to normally high-secure areas (SPACECOM, 2000). The year-long execution phase culminated in a five-day media event leading up to the millennium rollover. Media had access to senior leaders of the United States and the visiting Russian delegation who consistently portrayed confidence in their countries systems. Access was given to national and international media to strategic sites in Wyoming and Colorado including missile silos, underground command and control centers, satellite operation centers, and the historic U.S./Russian CY2KSS. Media were present in the CY2KSS and the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC), an underground strategic missile warning center in Colorado Springs, during the rollover (SPACECOM). NORAD, USSPACECOM, and AFSPCOM clearly exceeded their objectives (SPACECOM, 2000). Two-thirds of the news coverage contained at least one of the tricommand’s messages and an astounding 97% of the stories were positive or balanced. Most importantly, the number of people who believed a nuclear power or defense accident was likely dropped to 15% with a constant 3% having no opinion (Gallup, 1999, December). Our second hypothesis we advance is: H2: Defense appropriations are positively correlated with public opinion of the military. Public Opinion 16 Methods Agenda-Setting A content analysis of military related articles using Berelson’s (1952) concept that content analysis is a research technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication will determine military public affairs success or failure with influencing media agenda-setting. Funkhouser’s (1973) methodology described earlier will be used to investigate the correlation between public opinion of the military and media content. The independent variable is military public affairs communications campaigns and the dependent variable is media agenda-setting. A content analysis study can be conducted of six major newspapers: USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times for each year of the 1990s focusing on the major issues facing the military. The major issues are defined as those salient issues military public affairs deemed were important. For purposes of measurement, this could further be defined as those topics the military thought important enough to distribute PAG. Public affairs guidance themes, messages and questions and answers can be correlated to the news stories using Kaid and Wadsworth’s (1989) seven-step process. Media salience can be determined by the article’s placement in the newspaper. Stone & McCombs’ (1981) lag-time study methods can be incorporated in the study to avoid Funkhouser’s (1973) causal direction dilemma. PAG is posted with a date and time of publication release. Causal direction (Funkhouser, 1973) will be measured in favor of PAG for newspaper articles possessing PAG messages or themes published after the PAG release date. Public Opinion 17 Public Opinion Our independent variable is public opinion. Public opinion concerning defense spending is not measured at regular intervals and those survey centers that do measure this trend do not produce enough data sets. Therefore, data sets from several survey centers will have to be used over the 1990-1999 period we are measuring. The extraneous variable to consider when using different survey center data sets is the wording of the question. Surveys available Discussion We anticipate that data analysis will confirm that military public affairs communications campaigns positively influences media agenda-setting. Military public affairs PAG has similar features of sound communication theory and principles. Through an objective, systematic, and quantitative content analysis, we expect to find a correlation between the messages, themes, and questions and answers outlined in a specific PAG to newspaper articles on the topic. Causal direction (Funkhouser, 1973) will be found in favor of PAG. Newspaper articles will possess PAG messages or themes published after the PAG release date. Finally, we expect public opinion polls to be positively correlated to PAG. 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