Reframing Women’s Issues: How Intersectional Identity Frames affect Women’s Political Attitudes

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Principal investigator:

Margaret Brower

University of Chicago



Sample size: 1030

Field period: 08/01/2018-07/31/2019

Policy agendas are a critical feature of the political work that advocacy organizations do, and how they are framed matters for garnering public support. These framing tactics are particularly relevant for women advocacy groups that have to appeal to diverse constituencies with different racial and class identities. In this paper, the identity framing of policy agendas is examined to understand its effects on women’s political attitudes and their willingness to get more politically involved in issues. Drawing on data from a survey experiment with a nationally representative sample of 514 highly educated white women, these effects are delineated by race and class to highlight the ways in which policy is framed to appeal to women’s unique identities. The findings of this study suggest that intersectional identity framing, i.e. messaging by advocacy organizations that connect the relevance of policy issues to people’s multiple identity characteristics, has substantial effects on policy support and future political involvement. In framing the impact of policy agendas by gender, race and class, this study demonstrates how these characteristics work together to either motivate or disincentivize potential supporters to get more involved in these issues.

Highly educated, white women will be more supportive of a policy agenda on the issue of sexual harassment/violence when the framing of this agenda focuses on professional white women, relative to other policy agendas that use different identity frames.

Highly educated, white women will report they will take more political actions when the issue of sexual harassment/ violence is framed to focus on white professional women, relative to other policy agendas that use different identity frames.

Experimental Manipulations
Race and Class
Policy Support for Agenda and intended political behavior to support the issue in the policy agenda
Summary of Results
Overall, I find that racial alignment in policy framing best explains participants’ support for the issue—whether the policy is for low-wage or highly educated white women—white participants report high levels of support for the agenda and a greater willingness to get more involved with the issue. Meanwhile, racial misalignment with members of the same educational status best explains their reluctance to support these policies—highly educated, white women reported the lowest level of support when agendas were framed for highly educated, women of color. When frames were misaligned by both race and class, they were most supportive of these policies, but these frames did not affect their willingness to get more involved in politics. This suggests that a deviation in issue frames to focus on marginalized members by class may still be an effective tool in mobilizing the majority to support advocacy group agendas. Unfortunately, a deviation in framing that instead targets marginalized members by race will not have the same outcome: they do not motivate highly educated, white women to politically engage. Moreover, when these frames include members of the same educational status, the majority is least supportive of these agendas.
Best Graduate Student paper award, Midwest Association for Public Opinion, November 2019