Agendasetting in Belgium
Politicians, journalists and academics alike often mention 'the gap between the citizen and the political system'. The gap symbolizes that politics and society are not well adapted to each other, that politicians are caught up with issues which are of no interest to citizens while the demands and preferences of the citizens do not find their way to the political agenda. In academic terms: the political agenda and the public's agenda are too far apart, the agenda setting doesn't work properly. If this is true, this is of major importance. In a democratic political system the political agenda should be susceptible to changes in public opinion and public grievances. When the political and the public's agendas don't match, the regime legitimacy is in danger.
There has been no Belgian research into agenda setting so far, be it from the communications' or the political science perspective, let alone that both perspectives have been combined in one study, something which even internationally is quite exceptional. Yet a few Belgian research groups have been working separately on parts that can be useful to a broader agenda setting study. We have brought those groups together for this purpose. This allows us to use available data on public opinion and on the political agenda. Data on the policy agenda are also to our disposition. In addition to that, we invested seriously in a new empirical database concerning the media-agenda. These data are vital because they link the different agendas, especially the public's agenda on the one hand and the political and policy agendas on the other hand. Foreign research indicates how very important it is to combine the different types of agenda. Most bivariate studies involving just two agendas reveal significant correlations. Yet the multivariate research that is available suggests that those bivariate correlations are often illusory and that it is therefore paramount to study the different agendas in full.
All together, we distinguish ten different agenda’s.
- The public opinion-agenda, composed out of several (divers) public opinion data throughout the nineties
- The parliamentary political, containing the questions and answers, and interpellations in the federal parliament (Kamer).
- The parliamentary legislative agenda, containing the legislative output of the federal parliament (Kamer)
- The budget-agenda
- The political Party-agenda (Party-programs)
- The government-agreements-agenda
- The Council of Ministers-agenda (based on the content and decisions of the federal governments weekly meetings)
- The media-agenda (Two TV-channels, and 2, respectively 3 newspapers from the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking part of the country)
- The Real-World-Indicators (The actual facts, where available and reliable)
- The Civil Society-agenda, based on on the one hand a database of protest marches in the nineties, and on the other hand the issues on which the civil society organizations get media-exposure.
In addition to these ten agenda’s, we will also conduct three case-studies (see infra), in which we look closer into some aspects of the agenda-setting process. The first year of the project (2001) was reserved for data-gathering and the composition of the mono-agenda-reports. The second year (2002), we intend to make several bi-agenda-reports, and in the last year (2003), we will bring it all together for the multi-agenda-analyses.