Dynamics of Diffusion: Aggregate Patterns in Congressional Campaign Agendas

Tracy Sulkin, Jillian Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examine patterns in campaign agendas for a sample of 1,141 House and Senate candidates in the 1984 to 1996 elections, using a content analysis of coverage of their campaigns in CQ Weekly Report's "Special Election Issue" to extract each candidate's priority issues. The results indicate that, contrary to some of the predictions in the broader literature on congressional campaigns and elections, these agendas are very diffuse, with a high level of diversity in themes across candidates, races, and time. We uncover evidence of systematic differences in the issue priorities highlighted by Democrats and Republicans, by House and Senate candidates, and by incumbents, challengers, and candidates for open seats. We also find substantial independence in the agenda choices of opposing candidates, of same-state copartisans, of candidates who run in multiple elections, and of same-district or -state candidates across time. These findings have important implications for understanding the role of campaigns in agenda setting and in the broader representative process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-534
Number of pages30
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2006


  • Agenda setting
  • Candidate strategy
  • Congress
  • Congressional campaigns
  • Elections
  • Political agendas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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