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Engaging in ‘Loose Talk’: Analyzing Salience in Discourse from the Formulation of Welfare Policy

Authors
Disciplines
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science

Abstract

Attempts to explain the emergence of policy innovation are regularly constrained by the complexities of political processes and the vagaries of social circumstance. Content analysis of media reports has been used routinely to provide an outline of policy change. However, the results of content analysis can be simplistic and lacking in depth of meaning. This study added the use of principal components analysis (PCA) of media text content to more substantively examine the evolution of a policy “sea-change.â€\x9D Both the manifest and latent content of newspaper accounts were analyzed to measure the salience of a public policy innovation that expanded religious group utilization with the 1996 welfare reform act. In addition to tracing variations in the flow of policy deliberation, the analysis more fully captured the character of public discourse that surrounded the adoption of this controversial policy. Unexpected findings from analysis of the accounts included limited concern for Constitutional infringement and no evidence of a regional bias toward increased religious group utilization. Furthermore, principal components analysis of textual structure exhibited patterns of discourse indicative of privatistic (rather than communal) religious response, limited concern with diverse social groups and pronounced reliance on “praise and blameâ€\x9D persuasive strategies. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

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