Reality Bites: The Limits of Framing Effects for Salient and Contested Policy Issues

Political Science Research and Methods (2014, Forthcoming)

Formerly: MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2012-3

22 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2012 Last revised: 29 Jan 2014

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in Saint Louis

Jens Hainmueller

Stanford University - Department of Political Science; Stanford Graduate School of Business; Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

Dominik Hangartner

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE); Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

Marc Helbling

University of Bamberg

Date Written: January 2014

Abstract

A large literature argues that public opinion is vulnerable to various types of framing and cue effects. However, we lack evidence on whether existing findings, which are typically based on lab experiments involving low salience issues, travel to salient and contentious political issues in real-world voting situations. We examine the relative importance of issue frames, partisan cues, and their interaction for opinion formation using a survey experiment conducted around a highly politicized referendum on immigration policy in Switzerland. We find that voters responded to frames and cues, regardless of their direction, by increasing support for the position that is in line with their pre-existing partisan attachment. This reinforcement effect was most visible among low knowledge voters that identified with the party that owned the issue. These results support some of the previous findings in the political communication literature, but at the same time also point toward possible limits to framing effects in the context of salient and contested policy issues.

Keywords: democracy, referenda, framing, campains, elections, direct democracy, immigration

JEL Classification: P16, D72, J68

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and Hainmueller, Jens and Hangartner, Dominik and Helbling, Marc, Reality Bites: The Limits of Framing Effects for Salient and Contested Policy Issues (January 2014). Political Science Research and Methods (2014, Forthcoming); Formerly: MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2012-3. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2025552 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2025552

Michael M. Bechtel (Contact Author)

Washington University in Saint Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Jens Hainmueller

Stanford University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.stanford.edu/~jhain/

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

30 Alta Road
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Dominik Hangartner

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Departments of Government and Methodology
Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

30 Alta Road
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Marc Helbling

University of Bamberg ( email )

Feldkirchenstrasse 21
Bamberg, 96045
Germany

Paper statistics

Downloads
435
Rank
51,553
Abstract Views
1,896