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Lee Epstein
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Lee Epsteing Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor

MEASURING ISSUE SALIENCE
Published in 2000. American Journal of Political Science 44 (January): 66-83.

Lee Epstein
Jeffrey A. Segal

The concept of issue salience has figured prominently in many studies of American political life. Long lines of research have taught us that both citizens and political elites may respond differently to issues that are salient to them than to those that are not. Yet analysts making such claims about elite actors face a fundamental problem that their counterparts in mass behavior do not: They cannot survey, say, members of the Supreme Court to ascertain those cases that are especially salient to the justices. Rather, scholars must rely on surrogates for issue salience-surrogates that are fraught with problems and that have led to disparate research results.

Accordingly, we offer an alternative approach to measure issue salience for elite actors: the coverage the media affords to a given issue. We argue that this approach has substantial benefits over those employed in the past. Most notably, it provides a reproducible, valid, and transportable method of assessing whether the particular actors under investigation view an issue as salient or not. In making the case for our measure we focus on Supreme Court justices but we are sanguine about its applicability to other political actors.

Click here for the article (.pdf).
Click here for the data (portable SPSS file).
Click here for a list of cases on the front page of the New York Times (.xls) (updated through the 2009 Term). To link these data to the Supreme Court Database, click here (under Salience Measures).