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Framing Public Discussion of Gay Civil Unions
Unformatted Document Text:  Framing Public Discussion 28 on a comparison of pre-discussion to post-discussion opinion measures) 3 . Few would doubt that media discourse exerts important influences on the fund of ideas, images, and arguments that ordinary citizens take up in their thinking and talking about public affairs. Yet that fund is not unitary. It is a complex set of frames and counter-frames, and it contends with many other influences, such as ordinary experience, that also shape public reactions. Our results underscore Gamson’s (1992) argument that media discourse is just one among many resources that citizens may draw from their “tool kit” in working through public issues. In general, the findings highlight the value of applying a constructionist approach to the study of media-framing effects. Psychologically-oriented studies of framing effects have examined only short-term, isolated responses to news messages, and in so doing present only a partial view of the framing process – one that may incline toward overstating the capacity of media to direct public opinion. The present study charts a different course, examining socially negotiated responses among interacting groups of subjects following exposure to experimental frames. This course, we believe, stands to offer a more robust evaluation of the interconnections between “news talk” and “public talk.” 3 Prior to discussion, respondents were asked how much they would “favor the federal government in Washington doing the following …[listed among other policies] encourage states to recognize gay or lesbian marriages.” Seventy-two percent were opposed (nearly 50 percent strongly so) while only 28 percent were somewhat or strongly in favor. After the election, the percentage of supporters grew to just over 30 percent. But there were no significant differences in change of opinion discovered in comparisons of discussants to non-discussants, between different discussion group types, or between those exposed to different frame conditions. Nor were any interactions significant. Of course, given the strongly negative feelings many Americans have toward gays – as reflected, for example, in the very chilly ratings typically given them on “feeling thermometer” survey measures – perhaps such opinions are somewhat harder to move via framing than others.

Authors: Price, Vincent., Nir, Lilach. and Cappella, Joseph.
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background image
Framing Public Discussion
28
on a comparison of pre-discussion to post-discussion opinion measures)
3
. Few would doubt that
media discourse exerts important influences on the fund of ideas, images, and arguments that
ordinary citizens take up in their thinking and talking about public affairs. Yet that fund is not
unitary. It is a complex set of frames and counter-frames, and it contends with many other
influences, such as ordinary experience, that also shape public reactions. Our results underscore
Gamson’s (1992) argument that media discourse is just one among many resources that citizens
may draw from their “tool kit” in working through public issues.
In general, the findings highlight the value of applying a constructionist approach to the
study of media-framing effects. Psychologically-oriented studies of framing effects have
examined only short-term, isolated responses to news messages, and in so doing present only a
partial view of the framing process – one that may incline toward overstating the capacity of
media to direct public opinion. The present study charts a different course, examining socially
negotiated responses among interacting groups of subjects following exposure to experimental
frames. This course, we believe, stands to offer a more robust evaluation of the interconnections
between “news talk” and “public talk.”
3
Prior to discussion, respondents were asked how much they would “favor the federal
government in Washington doing the following …[listed among other policies] encourage states
to recognize gay or lesbian marriages.” Seventy-two percent were opposed (nearly 50 percent
strongly so) while only 28 percent were somewhat or strongly in favor. After the election, the
percentage of supporters grew to just over 30 percent. But there were no significant differences
in change of opinion discovered in comparisons of discussants to non-discussants, between
different discussion group types, or between those exposed to different frame conditions. Nor
were any interactions significant. Of course, given the strongly negative feelings many
Americans have toward gays – as reflected, for example, in the very chilly ratings typically given
them on “feeling thermometer” survey measures – perhaps such opinions are somewhat harder to
move via framing than others.


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