A Nation Fragmented

The Public Agenda in the Information Age

Jill A. Edy and Patrick C. Meirick
Book Cover

PB: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1600-1
Publication: Apr 19

HC: $104.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1599-8
Publication: Apr 19

Ebook: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1601-8
Publication: Apr 19

272 pages
6 x 9
15 tables, 21 figs., 3 line drawings

Evaluates how the lack of public consensus on issue priorities has affected the way public opinion is represented in U.S. democratic institutions

Read Chapter 1 (pdf).


The transformation from an undifferentiated public to a surfeit of interest groups has become yet another distinguishing feature of the increasing polarization of American politics. Jill Edy and Patrick Meirick contend that the media has played a key role in this splintering. A Nation Fragmented reveals how the content and character of the public agenda has transformed as the media environment evolved from network television and daily newspapers in the late 1960s to today’s saturated social media world with 200 cable channels.

The authors seek to understand what happened as the public’s sense of shared priorities deteriorated. They consider to what extent our public agenda has “fallen apart” as attention to news has declined, and to what extent we have been “driven apart” by changes in the issue agendas of news. Edy and Meirick also show how public attention is limited and spread too thin except in cases where a highly consistent news agenda can provoke a more focused public agenda.

A Nation Fragmented explores the media’s influence and political power and, ultimately, how contemporary democracy works.


“Developing a shared public agenda has never been easy in a country as large and diverse as the United States—a task that has become more difficult in the era of cable television and digital media. Drawing on nearly a half century of public opinion data and news media content, creative statistical analyses, and astute interpretation, Jill Edy and Patrick Meirick present a convincing argument for how the evolving information environment has contributed to both a ‘falling apart’ and a ‘driving apart’ of public priorities. A Nation Fragmented is a necessary read for anyone interested in the relationship between the media and politics in contemporary democracies.”
Michael X. Delli Carpini, Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of After Broadcast News: Media Regimes, Democracy, and the New Information Environment

Edy and Meirick’s exemplary book not only documents the fragmentation of the public agenda, it delves into reasons why the issues important to us have diversified and the consequences for governance. A Nation Fragmented is critical reading for anyone interested in understanding why the government doesn’t seem to address the right issues and how the media contribute to fragmentation.
Natalie J. Stroud, Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Journalism and director of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Niche News: The Politics of Choice

"Edy and Meirick provide a well-researched history of how Americans came to have a public agenda, what it’s used for, and how it has changed over time. They discuss how the public agenda, the issues the public feels need to be addressed, has changed with the rise of partisan media and internet communications and media. They also discuss the history and statistical evidence of how media influences what is seen as the public agenda and the issues that Americans find concerning. The authors' findings include that a lack of news viewership leads to a lack of consensus about what is important to the public agenda. They detail the political responsiveness, and then lack thereof, to the public agenda and provide ample statistical analysis with references and appendixes to back up the claims they make. Summing Up: Recommended."
— Choice

"(A)n investigation into the ways the U.S. public agenda fractured in the roughly forty-year period at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, and the part the media played in that process. It is a thoughtful and meticulous text.... With extensive empirical insights and an effective interrogation of both classic and contemporary communication theories, this book is well-suited for scholars, students, journalists, and members of the public interested in how and why the American people have become increasingly concerned with a greater number of issues at once."
— Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly

"(T)he authors are, at times, quite prescient in their expectations—particularly those regarding government response to a highly diversified public agenda.... Edy and Meirick’s warnings about the consequences of a fractured public agenda are well timed, and are perhaps better suited to the Trump era than the preceding one."
— Public Opinion Quarterly

" (D)iscusses the fragmentation of the public agenda and why it is important to diversify in governance.... Graduate students, scholars, and professionals interested in how public agenda, fragmentation, and the information age relate will find this book useful."
— Communication Booknotes Quarterly

" The authors of this book have assembled a wide range of information to explore what is going on and what is changing in terms of the media impact on the public agenda of a media saturated contemporary America. This is an extremely well sourced and referenced work."
— Communication Research Trends

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables

1. The Public Agenda in the Information Age
2. A History of the Public Agenda, 1975–2014
3. The Character of the Public Agenda, 1975–2014
4. Broadcast News and the Public Agenda, 1968–2010
5. Media Choice, News Agendas, and the Public Agenda
6. Building Consensus on Public Priorities: Can the Public Agenda Be Focused?
7. Political Responsiveness and the Public Agenda
8. What Happened to Us?

Appendix A: Coding the “Most Important Problem” Question
Appendix B: Computing Diversity and Volatility in the Public Agenda
Appendix C: Measuring Agenda-Setting and Alternate Time Series Models
Appendix D: Collecting Data on the Media System and Using Ridge Regression
Appendix E: Analyzing the Pew Excellence in Journalism News Coverage Index
Appendix F: Coding Major Presidential Addresses
Appendix G: Public Agenda and House Hearings Data of the Policy Agendas Project

About the Author(s)

Jill A. Edy is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Oklahoma. She is the author of Troubled Pasts: News and the Collective Memory of Social Unrest (Temple).

Patrick C. Meirick is an Associate Professor of Communication and Director of the Political Communication Center at the University of Oklahoma.