States, leeway for government is greatest in Britain. So media coverage might primarily affect the strategic range of government action in the United States and Germany and not in Britain. Of course demographic and financial pressures vary across countries, too. However, it is not possible in this chapter to systematically control for the influence of socio-economic variables compared to institutional variables. Assessing the impact of the mass media is more about the framing of socio-economic pressure not the objective data (Strünck 2005). So the chapter will point out how media influence on the policy debate might also transform political institutions in pension politics. In a first step I will briefly summarize the impact the mass media can theoretically have on pension politics. Following this, I will describe paths of pension reform in Germany, Britain, and the United States. Additionally, I will highlight the role of public debate and media coverage in policy making. Does this impact vary across the three countries due to differences of institutions and electoral politics? As a starting point I pick the case of Germany where pension politics has typically been embedded in a ‘grand coalition state’ (Schmidt 1996) for a long time, but has apparently been traded for a more adversarial style of policy making.
Mass media and the politics of pension reform: theoretical arguments Policy makers are often sensitive to sudden shifts and events. This holds especially true for policies that are exposed to cyclical turns or events like crises or scandals. Foreign policy, economic policy or environmental policy serve as good examples. Pension politics stands out because there are usually no shocks that might undermine policy making in that field, at least when it comes to public pension schemes. Parameters that influence pensions are all predictable or automatically linked to pension adjustment. Additionally, the technical core of pensions is handled by long-serving experts, civil servants and politicians that usually form a closed shop of policy networks. The institutional setting of pension politics gets little exposure to media coverage. Politics of pension reform have often followed the ‘parallel processing’ (Baumgartner and Jones 1993) type of policy making. It means that there is no dramaturgy of action and reaction but rather a continuous process of policy making in different networks. This is the classic style of policy-making when it comes to policies which heavily rest on expertise and long-term decisions. This stands in contrast to serial processing which shapes issues that are highly controversial and volatile. Very often a scientific consensus forms the backbone of parallel processing (Fischer and Forester 1993). Parallel processing also means that governments are not the most important actors. Instead it is rather secretive policy networks that are in charge. There is even widespread expectation that governments must not interfere with basic functions of pension schemes. It is obvious that short-term democratic politics and long-term stability of pensions can be at odds sometimes.