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Framing Public Discussion of Gay Civil Unions
Unformatted Document Text:  Framing Public Discussion 7 examined media discourse over a series of issues, but also studied 36 “peer group conversations,” each involving roughly 5 participants who discussed the issues in an informal group setting. Although Gamson used political cartoons and other materials to help stimulate conversations, he did not conduct any experimental manipulations to examine the influence of frames on citizen discussion. Thus, causal connections between media frames and public opinion, of the sort typically examined in psychological studies and posited as central to the larger process of framing (Pan & Kosicki, 1993) remained outside the scope of inquiry. The present study, the first of its kind, is a randomized framing experiment using interacting groups as our unit of analysis. As in other experimental studies of framing, our participants were asked to consider an issue – whether or not gay and lesbian partnerships should be legally recognized – after receiving one of two randomly assigned framing manipulations. On the other hand, following Gamson and Modigliani’s “constructionist” methodology, we observe not isolated individual responses to the frames, but instead group-level, discursive reactions. As in Gamson’s (1992) research, our groups averaged 4 or 5 participants each (fewer than in conventional “focus groups”) and the discussions were only lightly moderated. Whereas Gamson drew from a purposive sample of local “working class” people to form his 36 groups, we instead drew from a probability sample of the U.S. population to form 60 groups that interacted online. Because evidence suggests that much political conversation occurs among like-minded people, we formed three types of groups: homogeneously conservative groups, homogeneously liberal groups, and heterogeneous groups with participants from across the political spectrum. This feature of the design permitted us to examine the extent to which our issue-frames – which had decidedly conservative and liberal overtones – resonated differently among groups of varying political leanings.

Authors: Price, Vincent., Nir, Lilach. and Cappella, Joseph.
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Framing Public Discussion
7
examined media discourse over a series of issues, but also studied 36 “peer group conversations,”
each involving roughly 5 participants who discussed the issues in an informal group setting.
Although Gamson used political cartoons and other materials to help stimulate conversations, he
did not conduct any experimental manipulations to examine the influence of frames on citizen
discussion. Thus, causal connections between media frames and public opinion, of the sort
typically examined in psychological studies and posited as central to the larger process of
framing (Pan & Kosicki, 1993) remained outside the scope of inquiry.
The present study, the first of its kind, is a randomized framing experiment using
interacting groups as our unit of analysis. As in other experimental studies of framing, our
participants were asked to consider an issue – whether or not gay and lesbian partnerships should
be legally recognized – after receiving one of two randomly assigned framing manipulations. On
the other hand, following Gamson and Modigliani’s “constructionist” methodology, we observe
not isolated individual responses to the frames, but instead group-level, discursive reactions. As
in Gamson’s (1992) research, our groups averaged 4 or 5 participants each (fewer than in
conventional “focus groups”) and the discussions were only lightly moderated. Whereas Gamson
drew from a purposive sample of local “working class” people to form his 36 groups, we instead
drew from a probability sample of the U.S. population to form 60 groups that interacted online.
Because evidence suggests that much political conversation occurs among like-minded people,
we formed three types of groups: homogeneously conservative groups, homogeneously liberal
groups, and heterogeneous groups with participants from across the political spectrum. This
feature of the design permitted us to examine the extent to which our issue-frames – which had
decidedly conservative and liberal overtones – resonated differently among groups of varying
political leanings.


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