The Exaggerated Life of Death Panels? The Limited but Real Influence of Elite Rhetoric in the 2009-2012 Health Care Debate
Daniel J. Hopkins
University of Pennsylvania
August 13, 2016
Experiments demonstrate that elite rhetoric can influence public opinion through framing and related processes. Yet outside laboratories or surveys, real-world constraints might limit elites' ability to reshape public opinion. The 2009-12 health care debate provides an opportunity to observe the interplay of elite rhetoric and public opinion. To do so, this paper couples automated content analyses with population-based survey data from thousands of Americans. Multiple empirical tests uncover limited but real evidence of framing effects. The language Americans use to explain their opinions proves generally stable, although there is also evidence that the public adopts the language of both parties' elites in a roughly symmetric fashion. Elite rhetoric does not appear to have strong effects on Americans' overall evaluations of health care reform, but it can influence the reasons they use to justify their evaluations. 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: August 14, 2016
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