Saturday, July 14, 2007

Speaking of Framing...

Immigration is a good example of an issue that is ripe for framing, because there are so many different aspects that either side can stress. There are also a lot of nuances to the issue that can be used by political elites. Frank Luntz has conducted some of his famous focus groups on the issue and has been telling Republicans how to talk about the issue. One of the words Luntz has been instructing Republicans to use is "amnesty," and I'm sure you've heard House Republicans pushing this frame. Well, a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey recently used a little experiment to help us get a sense of how well the "amnesty" terms works for Republicans. You can find the report here: Essentially, the people at Pew randomly asked half of the survey respondents a question about whether illegal immigrants should be provided a way to gain citizenship while the other half was asked if they should be provided with amnesty (see the full questions here:

Interestingly, the findings from this poll reveal similar patterns that my co-author and I find in the paper we wrote for the recent framing conference hosted by CCPS (you can view that paper here: Essentially, the Republican frame works, but it really only works for certain groups--mainly Republicans. The Pew report demonstrates that 64% of "conservative Republicans" favored a way to citizenship for illegals, but only 44% favored it when the "amnesty" frame was invoked. That represents a major shift in opinion on the issue. On the other hand, the "amnesty" frame only decreased support for a path to citizenship by 8% among "moderate and liberal Republicans" and "Independents" and 4% among Democrats. This is similar to what we found when looking at the use of the "death tax" frame. The frame worked, but mostly just on Republicans. This is because Republican citizens tend to be more open to arguments and frames being advanced by Republican elites and Democratic citizens tend to filter out those messages. The messenger is sometimes just as important as the message.

We may view this as a good thing in one sense since it means that Republicans won't be easily led astray by Democratic frames, nor will Democrats be fooled by Republican frames. But it also leads to a question debated at the recent conference. That is, which attitudes are the "true" attitudes or opinions? Are Republicans 64% in favor or 44% in favor of giving illegal immigrants an opportunity to become citizens? Or is there even such a thing as "true attitudes?"

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