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“Illegal,” “Undocumented,” or “Unauthorized”: Equivalency Frames, Issue Frames, and Public Opinion on Immigration

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 September 2013

Jennifer Merolla
Claremont Graduate University
S. Karthick Ramakrishnan
University of California–Riverside
Chris Haynes
University of California–Riverside


Immigration has been a salient and contentious topic in the United States, with a great deal of congressional debate, advocacy efforts, and media coverage. Among conservative and liberal groups, there is a vigorous debate over the terms used to describe this population, such as “undocumented” or “illegal,” as both sides perceive significant consequences to public opinion that flow out of this choice in equivalency frames. These same groups also compete over the ways in which immigration policies are framed. Here, for the first time, we examine the use of both types of frames (of immigrants themselves, and the policies affecting them) in media coverage. Importantly, we also test for whether these various frames affect preferences on three different policies of legalization. Our results suggest that efforts to focus on the terms used to describe immigrants have limited effect, and that efforts to frame policy offer greater promise in swaying public opinion on immigration.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2013 

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