Book Explores Reasons For Rejection of Policies

Dr. Mary Layton (Mel) Atkinson’s new book considers why members of the public frequently
reject public policies that seem to give them exactly what they want. The book, Combative
Politics: The Media and Public Perceptions of Lawmaking (University of Chicago Press), looks
at the impact of news media’s impact on this phenomenon.

“From the Affordable Care Act, to The No Child Left Behind Act, to the Federal Marriage
Amendment, to the Health Security Act – examples abound of Americans expressing support for
the goals and key provisions of policies while simultaneously opposing the policy vehicles as a
whole,” Atkinson says. “I demonstrate that in these instances, Americans are rejecting the
divisive, partisan process of policy-making rather than the substance of the legislation.”

Journalists routinely focus on political conflict as opposed to policy substance when reporting on
lawmaking, Atkinson says. Using a multi-method approach that includes analysis of media
coverage, individual level experiments, observational analyses, and case studies of specific
policies, her work demonstrates that the passage of bills with popular provisions can result in a
public backlash stemming from exposure via the news media to the unpopular process of policy
making.

Atkinson is assistant professor of political science. Her research focuses on the policymaking
process with an emphasis on the roles that public opinion, issue framing, and media coverage
play in shaping policy debate. Atkinson also studies the roles gender and race play in shaping
legislative agendas in the United States and Europe. Prior to her academic career, she worked as
a writer for a K Street communications firm in Washington, D.C. and as a campaign manager.