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Framing Public Opinion in Competitive Democracies


What is the effect of democratic competition on the power of elites to frame public opinion? We address this issue first by defining the range of competitive contexts that might surround any debate over a policy issue. We then offer a theory that predicts how audiences, messages, and competitive environments interact to influence the magnitude of framing effects. These hypotheses are tested using experimental data gathered on the opinions of adults and college students toward two policy issues—the management of urban growth and the right of an extremist group to conduct a rally. Our results indicate that framing effects depend more heavily on the qualities of frames than on their frequency of dissemination and that competition alters but does not eliminate the influence of framing. We conclude by discussing the implications of these results for the study of public opinion and democratic political debate.

Corresponding author
Dennis Chong is John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208 (
James N. Druckman is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208 (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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