In This Article Framing Effects in Political Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Framing Effects and Other Political Communication Effects
  • Types of Framing Effects

Political Science Framing Effects in Political Communication
by
Sophie Lecheler
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0269

Introduction

How the media and journalists “frame” politics has been the subject of a great many theoretical and empirical investigations by political communication scholars over the past three decades. In political communication, a frame can be understood as a journalistic or elite viewpoint or angle, which highlights one aspect of a political issue over another. The existence of frames in political communication has been shown conclusively, so a logical next question for many scholars is whether and how frames actually influence citizens’ understanding of political issues and processes. These framing effects can help us explain in what ways subtle differences in the presentation of a political issue can lead to changes in interpretation, attitudes, emotions and behavior. When looking at the political arena, framing effect studies have investigated all sorts of issues and events, ranging from social protest, to elections, government spending, and European Union (EU) integration. However, perhaps because the idea of framing effects proved to be so valuable for studying different political issues and contexts, studies have often neglected to incorporate their findings into a comprehensive theory of framing effects. So, we have many case studies of framing effects, but many questions regarding the theoretical underpinnings of the concept are still unanswered. Among other things, this has led to a fierce debate on the value and future of framing effects within political communication research. This article therefore focuses only on scholarship of framing effects that have significantly advanced its theoretical development, rather than specific political issues or events.

History of Framing Effects Research

The history of framing effects in political communication is closely linked to conceptualizations of what media effects represent within the social sciences. For the last century or so, the scholarly conception of just how much influence the media exert on society and individuals has been oscillating between ideas of minimal, maximal, and differentiated effects. Today, most scholars theorize sizeable media effects, but depart from the idea of an active audience that weighs media messages against extant beliefs or values and then sometimes integrates them. This so-called differentiated media effect paradigm requires the use of fine-grained theoretical approaches to investigate media effects, which is really what gave rise to “framing,” a concept that originated in psychology and sociology. Since the 1980s, framing has been adapted by communication scholars, and both the sociological and the psychological origins of the concept were integrated with extant knowledge in media effects research. The following references include examples of original texts from psychology and sociology, as well one or two cases in which this original work has directly inspired debates within framing research in political communication. It also helps to know that framing effects research is still divided into scholars building their work based on either a psychological or sociological understanding of what frames are.

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