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A Nation Fragmented: The Public Agenda in the Information Age, Jill A. Edy and Patrick C. Meirick

Reviewed by Edwin Amenta

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Is it even worth referring nowadays to the “American public”? This issue is at the center of A Nation Fragmented. Many have blamed partisan polarization for our current political ills. The parties have been unable to address important social problems and issues, ranging from recently salient ones such as the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism to long-term ones such as environmental crises, gun violence, and health care. Often the parties have been unable to agree on what constitutes a problem.

Communications professors Jill A. Edy and Patrick C. Meirick of the University of Oklahoma argue that our inability to act for the common good is due not mainly to polarization but to fragmentation. There is no longer much consensus on which issue or issues are of central concern to the public. The authors document this fragmentation of the public agenda primarily by way of opinion surveys—especially the answers to Gallup’s long-standing question about the nation’s “most important problem.” They show that this version of the public agenda has become more diverse over time, with attention becoming less focused and spread more thinly across many issues.

What is driving this blurrier and more divided attention? The end of the Co

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