‘Think tank’ is a heterogeneous concept and is used to characterize ‘a remarkably diverse group of organizations’ (Stone & Garnet, 1998). Because they vary considerably in size, structure, policy ambit and significance, there are substantial difficulties in defining what a ‘think tank’ is, remarks Stone (2004, p. 2). Some present themselves as independent research organizations without any ideological or political agenda—‘universities without students’ (Weaver, 1989, p. 564). Others pose as policy experts and function as contract research institutions. Many publicly known think tanks are, however, strongly engaged in political advocacy and the marketing of ideas (Schlesinger, 2009; McKewon, 2012). In the Nordic region, most institutions that use the concept ‘think tank’ in referring to their own societal role have an ideological and political platform.
These advocacy think tanks, which are the subject of our study, exist to influence public opinion, public policy and political debates with a more long-term, strategic aim than day-to-day politics: ‘they help to provide the conceptual language, the ruling paradigms, the empirical examples that become the accepted assumptions for those in charge of making policy’ (Stone, 1996, p. 110). Such think tanks see themselves primarily ‘as advocates for specific solutions to public policy problems or for their own political worldview’ (Thunert, 2004, p. 77). Business groups or corporations usually fund market-liberal advocacy think tanks. Other advocacy think tanks are linked to political parties, while yet others are sponsored by trade unions and interest organizations. Advocacy think tanks exist to influence public opinion, public policy and political debates with a more long-term, strategic aim than day-to-day politics.
One of the strategic aims of advocacy think tanks is to influence political opinion, both through mediated communication and through more direct contact and dialogue with policymakers. Think tanks publish books, new reports, commentaries, arrange debates and seminars and are more than willing to function as media sources on a broad range of topics (Bjerke, 2015; McKewon, 2012; Stål & Tillegård, 2005).
The topic of this article is the media visibility of Swedish advocacy think tanks, as measured by their visibility in leading Swedish print newspapers. Four research questions will be answered: How often are these advocacy think tanks referred to in the news? How important are they as commentators and opinion makers? How are they presented as sources in the news? What is the relative strength of market-liberal and right-wing think tanks versus red/green think tanks in terms of media representation and agenda setting?
Aarhus, Danmark, 2016. Vol. 19, no 1, 61-76 p.