Public policy narratives and stories are often referenced by the media, politicians, advocacy groups, and across many disciplines in academia. Studies of social and political narratives support the notion narrative matters, but often lack systematic design capable of producing generalizable findings. The Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) has responded to this gap, but it lacks a consideration of idea attention and political institutions, for which it has drawn criticism. This dissertation develops unique ideas about the role of narratives in focusing attention and impacting policy choices in ways that allow for a consideration of institutional narratives. These newly developed theoretical ideas about narrative attention progressively shift the policy studies research agendas by opening up an avenue of inquiry into institutional narratives – their peculiarities and systematic dynamics.
Theory about narrative attention and institutions is utilized in a descriptive and explanatory study of U.S. Presidential State of the Union Speeches over the past 73 years. These speeches are content analyzed for environmental policy narratives and their components. Content coding and subsequent descriptive analysis supports ideas based in the literature: that
narratives should be present, narrative distribution should illustrate the established institutional dynamic of extreme periods of focus as well as periods of little or no attention to environmental policy, and lastly, environmental policy narratives would contain partisan trends. However, adding narrative to this analysis of institutional policy ideas finds two types of narratives, one emphasizing problems, called “story of fear,” and another emphasizing solutions, called “story of hope.” The finding of these story types emphasizes the value added of narrative in uncovering more detailed information about information emphasis than previous approaches could allow.
Finally, to test the proposition policy narratives impact policy agenda within policymaking institutions, time series analysis of climate change narratives and congressional hearings is conducted. Findings suggest narratives do impact agendas, and that stories of fear are the most effective at focusing Congressional attention. However, the analysis finds that stories of fear are only related to Congressional attention in times of unified government, when the Presidency and both houses of Congress are controlled by the same party. These findings suggest shared policy beliefs are necessary in order to support the intensive policymaking that problem-focused narratives likely engender and are likely necessary for impactful climate change policy. Future research should explore the efficacy of story types in other domains and contexts, as well as consider the roles of other important policy actors.