Book chapter

Issue Salience and Political Decisions (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Salience refers to the extent to which people cognitively and behaviorally engage with a political issue (or other object), although it has meant different things to different scholars studying different phenomena. The word originally was used in the social sciences to refer to the importance of political issues to individuals' vote choice. It also has been used to designate attention being paid to issues by policy makers and the news media, yet it can pertain to voters as well. Thus, salience sometimes refers to importance and other times to attention—two related but distinct concepts—and is applied to different actors. The large and growing body of research on the subject has produced real knowledge about policies and policy, but the understanding is limited in several ways. First, the conceptualization of salience is not always clear, which is of obvious relevance to theorizing and limits assessment of how (even whether) research builds on and extends existing literature. Second, the match between conceptualization and measurement is not always clear, which is of consequence for analysis and impacts the contribution research makes. Third, partly by implication, but also because the connections between research in different areas—the public, the media, and policy—are not always clear, the consequences of salience for representative democracy remain unsettled.