Public Affairs and Agenda Setting:

Passive On-Lookers or Active Participants?

     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.


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