Key political symbols are an important but neglected topic in the policy sciences. As instruments of policy, they are used to fashion consensus and misused for purposes of exploitation. Scientific inquiry into the possibilities for maximizing consent and minimizing exploitation has been frustrated for lack of systematic, empirical methods - despite a rich theoretical tradition that has been available for decades. This article introduces suitable methods and reintroduces available theory through a case study of a key symbol, ‘Watergate.’ Originally a reference to a building in Washington, D.C., it became a reference to a complex of unresolved involving integrity in government. The process of dissociation from its original meaning provides cues that policy scientists might use to anticipate the course of issue expansion and simplification in connection with other policy issues, including the Iran-Contra arms affair.
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