Ann N. Crigler and Klaus Bruhn Jensen
Coping with the currently available amount of politically relevant information represents a major challenge for anybody conceiving of themselves as participants in national, much less international, political processes. Today, citizens who wish to exercise their political rights find themselves in a new and complex environment of communication. The new media age may imply a redefinition of the public sphere from the perspective of the audience.
The strategies by which people cope with this information environment have been studied using a number of different methodological and theoretical approaches. Several scholars have suggested that in-depth, qualitative approaches are particularly suited to examine the public's orientations towards and experience of political life (Graber 1984, Jensen 1986, Lane 1962, Morley 1980, Van Dijk 1988). For this article, we draw on recent empirical studies in two different cultural settings-the United States and Denmark-to propose a set of thematic conceptualizations which citizens employ to make sense of political issues. The emphasis is placed on a secondary analysis of the findings in each study with the aim of generating explanatory theory, which, in turn, may be used to design further comparative research. There are important differences as well as similarities between the two countries that are reflected in the themes which citizens use to discuss political topics. We suggest that a theoretical analysis which is grounded in the qualitative, empirical data (Glaser and Strauss 1967) establishes dimensions of politics that cut across cultures.
The analysis primarily seeks to accomplish two objectives.