[ASC-list] How long can the public maintain interest in an issue?

Toss Gascoigne director at tossgascoigne.com.au
Thu Jun 15 01:26:06 UTC 2017

From David Salt’s Dbytes newsletter:

> Dbytes #292  (15 June 2017)
> Info & news for members and associates of the Environmental Decision Group
> “public attention rarely remains sharply focused upon any one domestic issue for very long – even if it involves a continuing problem of crucial importance to society. Instead, a systematic “issue-attention cycle” seems strongly to influence public attitudes and behaviour concerning most key domestic problems. Each of these problems suddenly leaps into prominence, remains there for a short time, and then – though still largely unresolved – gradually fades from the center of public attention”
> Anthony Downs [see item 5]
> The issue-attention cycle as described by Anthony Downs
> 1. The pre-problem stage: when most people aren’t yet aware of the issue but experts or interest groups might be.
> 2. Alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm: when the public suddenly becomes aware of and alarmed about an issue. According to Down’s analysis, in the US this alarm “is invariably accompanied by euphoric enthusiasm about society’s ability to “solve this problem” or “do something effective” within a relatively short period of time”.
> 3. Realising the cost of significant progress – disillusionment sets in once people realise how much it will cost to solve the problem, not only in terms of money but also through sacrifices by large groups of the population.
> 4. Gradual decline of intense public interest: “As more and more people realize how difficult, and how costly to themselves, a solution to the problem would be, three reactions set in. Some people just get discouraged. Others feel positively threatened by thinking about the problem, so they suppress such thoughts. Still others become bored by the issue.” Other issues start to get more attention instead.
> 5. The post-problem stage – the problem gets moved off into a “twilight realm of lesser attention or spasmodic recurrences of interest”. But things are not the same as before – new institutions, policies and programmes are in place, and any issue that has been through the cycle is more likely to get attention again in future at certain points.
> Ref: Downs A (1972). Up and down with ecology – the ‘issue-attention cycle’. Public Interest 28
> [Editor’s note: Sometimes we feature older items like this classic. You can read a discussion on this paper, with a link downloading the paper itself, at https://politicalclimate.net/2011/05/02/up-and-down-with-climate-change/ <http://decision-point.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=3ba73c9adaed1e77fdc6c0a9e&id=323ed96f8a&e=e0f40e4699> ]
> About EDG
> The Environmental Decision Group (EDG) is a network of conservation researchers working on the science of effective decision making to better conserve biodiversity. Our members are largely based at the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, RMIT and CSIRO. The EDG receives support from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). You can find out about the wonderful work of CEED by reading its magazine, Decision Point (which, as it happens, is also produced by David Salt).
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