The Exaggerated Life of Death Panels: The Limited Influence of Elite Rhetoric in the 2009-2012 Health Care Debate
Daniel J. Hopkins
University of Pennsylvania
May 25, 2016
Experiments demonstrate that elite rhetoric can influence public opinion through framing and related processes. Yet outside the laboratory or survey setting, real-world constraints might limit elites' ability to reshape public opinion. The 2009-12 health care debate provides an unparalleled opportunity to observe the interplay of elite rhetoric and public opinion in real-world conditions. This paper couples automated content analyses with population-based survey data from thousands Americans to better measure elite frames, public opinion, and their relationship. Multiple empirical tests uncover only limited evidence of framing effects. While the frames employed by political elites are punctuated, mass attitudes shift only gradually. The very language Americans use to explain their opinions proves stable, although there is some evidence that the public adopts the language of both parties' elites in a roughly symmetric fashion. Methodologically, the automated analysis of elite rhetoric and open-ended survey questions shows considerable promise in illuminating elite-mass interactions.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 46
Keywords: Issue framing, public opinion, automated content analysis, health care attitudes
Date posted: October 19, 2012 ; Last revised: June 21, 2016
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