Under which conditions can social movements influence discursive struggles over public policies? Policy ideas are embedded in any new movement-relevant legislation, including categories, frames, justifications, and narratives. Moreover, when legislation passes, it receives a “discursive ratification” in the news media, which interprets its meaning. These cultural aspects of legislation define the constituencies of social movements and influence future political group formation and policy development but are not much analyzed by scholars. We argue that it is more difficult for mass movement organizations to influence policy ideas than to influence the political agenda, votes for programs, or monetary upgrades in them because doing so requires different capacities and favorable political contexts. Also, influencing the discursive ratification of policy is more difficult than placing quotes or demands in the news. To illustrate and appraise these arguments, we examine the policy ideas behind and the national news coverage of U.S. old-age legislation during its formative years in the 1930s and 1940s. Specifically, we examine six key episodes in which the old-age pension movement had broad influence over legislative developments. However, only in some instances did the movement influence ideas in old-age policy or its discursive ratification, and sometimes its actions backfired. These analyses show that movements’ favorable influence over the benefits in policy may not translate into cultural influence.

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