Issue Attention Cycles
In the 1970s, when environmental awareness was on the rise in America society and it was becoming more and more popular to champion causes, a sociologist by the name of Anthony Downs formed theories on what become known as Issue Attention Cycles. These are cycles that occur naturally in the realm of public opinion, mass media, and government, moving from acknowledgement of the issue to some type of resolution. What Downs discovered is that these natural cycles tended to end with less change than most people believed, that the public as a whole was often contented with only superficial change and that interest in an idea—particularly environmental issues—died down after a certain time.
Downs separated the process into five different stages, from the unknown beginning where the issue is only known to professionals, through the rapid rise in public awareness due to sudden events and group fervor, onto the decline of mass interest as the public realizes the time, costs, and effort involved in making changes, and finally to the loss of interest, when the public moves onto a newer, more exciting issue and often leaves the old issue behind without a clear solution.
While Issue Attention Cycles are a natural part of society and a integral factor in the relation between public opinion and government policy, they can be broken and do not always end without closure. The most important thing for the public is to be aware of Attention Cycles and always seek a proper solution to the problem before moving on--and to realize that as far as widespread attention and government decision go, they only have a short time to act in a meaningful way.