Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

How Media Frames More Public Opinion: An Analysis of the Women's Movement

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

How Media Frames More Public Opinion: An Analysis of the Women's Movement

Article excerpt

We examine the weekly print media's coverage of the women's movement and ascertain the presence of five unique frames from the 1950s through the 1990s: a sex roles frame, a feminism frame, political rights frame, economic rights frame, and an anti-feminism frame. After describing the frames we discuss an experimental test of four of the media packages on voters' political attitudes using a non-random sample of adults. Experimental results indicate that the economic rights and anti-feminism frames had a strong, negative impact on subject attitudes toward gender equality, support for women's rights, support for non-traditional gender roles and the frequency with which subjects mentioned "women's issues" as among the most important issues facing the U.S. In addition, the feminism frame also exerted negative effects; while, conversely, the political rights frame had a positive influence on similar gender attitudes. Results were moderated by respondent gender with men demonstrating greater susceptibility to issue framing than women.

The public is dependent on the mass media for political information. Whether citizens access the media via television, print, or radio they are exposed to editorial decisions about what constitutes news, what issues are important, and how policy debates are packaged. However, initial attempts to document media influence failed to unearth powerful persuasion effects, concluding instead that the media simply reinforce citizens' political choices (Klapper 1960; Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee 1954; Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet 1948).

In contrast to the "minimal effects" school, more recent explorations have begun to dispel this rather narrow view of media power. These researchers rely on a more complex conceptualization of media effects. That is, in the context of reflecting social and political reality, the media select and arrange, to use Lippmann's (1922) term, the "pictures in our heads." This recognition of media power has brought to the forefront two new directions in media research: agenda setting and priming (Krosnick and Brannon 1993; Krosnick and Kinder 1990; Iyengar and Kinder 1987; MacKuen 1981; McCombs 1981).

There is strong evidence that agenda setting and priming influence voters in two ways. First, by deciding which issues to cover the media set the public agenda, which in turn influences the importance citizens ascribe to reported issues (Iyengar and Kinder 1987; MacKuen 1981; McCombs 1981). Second, by elevating certain issues over others, i.e., priming, the media influence voters' subsequent evaluations of political actors and alter the criteria by which political players are judged (Krosnick and Brannon 1993; Krosnick and Kinder 1990; Iyengar and Kinder 1987).

However, agenda setting and priming are far from the media's sole powers. While these concepts describe which issues will enter the public domain and how they may later influence political judgements, a theory of framing asserts that issues, in and of themselves, can be arranged or presented in multiple fashions and as such influence citizens' ensuing issue considerations and levels of policy support.

While at first glance priming and framing effects may appear to be similar, there are key differences. Although framing may be capable of increasing issue salience by pairing a specific frame with issue coverage, framing's real effects are due to the changed considerations that come to bear when forming an opinion and how these changes can result in a net shift in policy support. This change is due to the language of that unique frame, not merely to the issue itself being primed. In contrast, priming, as conceptualized in political science, refers to the greater inferential weight attached to a previously mentioned issue once it receives media coverage.l

A political example blended from the real world follows: Opinions toward U.S. support for the Nicaraguan Contras were twice as influential a determinant of Reagan's popularity after the Irancontra scandal then prior to coverage (Krosnick and Kinder 1990). …

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