Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Andsager, Julie

First Committee Member

Berry, Venise

Second Committee Member

Campbell, Mary

Third Committee Member

Dalrymple, Kajsa

Fourth Committee Member

Harkness, Sarah


The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was among the first legislative responses to the financial and mortgage crises of 2008 and allowed the U.S. government to alleviate distressed financial institutions of equity and assets that were straining the housing and financial markets. However, the underlying economic events that precipitated the legislative intervention, including rising foreclosure rates in specific states, had been disproportionately affecting Americans months before the bill was signed into law.

The purpose of this dissertation was to determine the parameters of the issue public that was supportive of TARP by studying how demographic and geographic disparities of the recession were related to selective exposure to news media and the formation of this issue public. The news effects theoretical perspectives of agenda setting and media priming, including attribute agenda setting and attribute priming, along with the theoretical framework of the public opinion concept of issue publics, particularly state-specific issue publics, guided and informed the execution of this research. This dissertation entailed two research approaches: a content analysis of national television news six months prior to and up until the passage of TARP in early October 2008, and a secondary analysis of select data from the 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey, a rolling cross-sectional phone survey conducted from late 2007 until Election Day 2008. Results from the content analysis study suggest national television news of the economy in 2008 predominantly covered the presidential election, the economic attributes of taxes and inflation, and presented the economic crisis as a national issue. As for the public opinion study, economic attitudes were predictive of support for TARP, but exposure to the news and demographics, including geography, were not associated with support for TARP.

Overall, the unfolding recession was not frequently covered on national television news in 2008, and support for TARP was found to be associated with an individual's attitudes as opposed to demographic identity or geographic location.

Findings suggest attribute agenda-setting effects were most likely for individual views of blame for the crisis, while the issue public that was supportive of TARP appeared to be based upon economic attitudes.


demographics, geography, Great Recession, issue publics, public opinion, television news


ix, 252 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 238-252).


Copyright 2013 Michael D. Sears