Regulation via Threats: Politics, Media Coverage, and Oil Pricing Decisions

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1990


International Business & Management



Publication Title

Public Opinion Quarterly


Using the oil crisis of the late 1970s as a case study, we examine the intertwined influences of public opinion and media attention on the credibility of regulatory threats. We focus on three factors: the intensity of public demands for regulatory intervention, the extent to which there are other competing demands on legislative attention, and the availability of scapegoats external to the industry. We use television news coverage of various topics to measure these three factors. We hypothesize that firms threatened with potential regulation restrained price increases, with the largest and most publicly visible firms exercising the greatest restraint. We find that large, visible oil firms restrained price increases for the most important decontrolled products (diesel fuel oil) when media coverage of the oil industry was extensive. These firms exercised less restraint when the government was busy with other issues or when political instability in the Middle East offered an external rationale for oil price increases.


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