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The Intersection of Group and Outcome Frames in Shaping Opinion

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Principal Investigator(s):

Carl Palmer
Illinois State University
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Sample size: 1000
Field period: 4/2/2010-6/10/2010


Previous research in issue framing has shown the influence of group-centric rhetoric in shaping opinion. When issues become tied to social groups through rhetoric, group sentiment becomes an important ingredient for opinion on associated issues. This project seeks to extend framing studies by considering the effects of complex policy frames, which contain both a program target and outcome component, and the degree to which such frames induce competing motivations in the minds of recipients. Results from a survey experiment suggest that, ignoring individual characteristics, outcomes are more important than beneficiaries when evaluating policy. However, stereotypical predispositions and individual sophistication also serve as important moderating factors for the effectiveness of frames in shaping issue opinion.


Research question: When faced with an issue containing competing considerations (policy outcome and policy beneficiary), which has the greatest impact on opinion?

  1. H1 (Valence hypothesis): the valence of a frame (positive or negative) should affect support for the framed policy (increasing or decreasing support, respectively), relative to those in the control.
  2. H2 (Sentiment hypothesis): Pre-existing stereotypical perceptions of target groups should motivate respondent's processing of the frames.
  3. H3 (Sophistication hypothesis): Larger framing effects should be observed among the politically sophisticated

Experimental Manipulation:

The study consists of a 2x2, between-subjects design, with control. The manipulation was a mock-newspaper article describing a recent government audit of the Earned Income Tax Credit program, in which the program was framed as being either successful or unsuccessful at increasing employment, and as being targeted at either African Americans, or Hispanics.

Key Dependent Variables:

The Dependent Variable in the study is subjects' support for a Congressional proposal to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Summary of Findings:

The results of the analysis show that respondents, when presented with frames seeking to develop linkages between an unfamiliar issue and the frame target, do in fact invoke group sentiment in forming their opinions. Additionally, the way in which group considerations are applied are moderated by an individuals' level of sophistication. In this study, more sophisticated individuals differentiate across frame targets, varying their opinion as a function of both the program's success and its beneficiary.



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