Framing Vaccine Mandates: Messenger and Message Effects

34 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2021 Last revised: 21 Jun 2022

See all articles by Christopher Buccafusco

Christopher Buccafusco

Duke University School of Law

Daniel J. Hemel

New York University School of Law

Date Written: November 16, 2021


In September 2021, President Biden announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would require large employers to ensure workers are vaccinated against Covid-19 or tested weekly. Although widely characterized as “Biden’s vaccine mandate,” the policy could be described with equal accuracy as “OSHA’s testing mandate.” Some commentators speculated that reframing the policy as a testing mandate would boost support. This study investigates how framing effects shape attitudes toward vaccination policies.

Before the Supreme Court struck down the vaccinate-or-test rule, we presented 1500 U.S. adults with different descriptions of the same requirement. Reframing “Biden’s vaccine mandate” as “OSHA’s testing mandate” significantly increased support, boosting net approval by 13 percentage points. The effect was driven by changing the “messenger frame” (replacing “Biden” with “OSHA”) rather than changing the “message frame” (replacing “vaccine mandate” with “testing mandate”).

Our results suggest that messenger framing can meaningfully affect public opinion even after a policy is widely known. Our study also reveals a potential cost of presidential administration when partisan divisions are deep. Framing a regulatory policy as an extension of the president can elicit strong—here, negative—reactions that may be avoidable if the policy is framed as the work of a bureaucratic agency.

Keywords: framing effects, vaccine mandate, presidential administration, OSHA, COVID-19

JEL Classification: D90, D91, I18, K23

Suggested Citation

Buccafusco, Christopher J. and Hemel, Daniel J., Framing Vaccine Mandates: Messenger and Message Effects (November 16, 2021). University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 944, U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 793, Journal of Law and the Biosciences (forthcoming 2022), Available at SSRN: or

Christopher J. Buccafusco

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

Daniel J. Hemel (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

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