By examining the alterations in opinion induced by alterations in question wording that mimic the ongoing debate among elites, it becomes possible to learn how changes in public opinion can be induced by changes taking place outside the survey, in the ordinary, everyday process of democratic discussion. We present evidence in support of this broad claim from a recent national survey in which white Americans were invited to think about affirmative action either as unfair advantage or as reverse discrimination. Framing the issue as unfair advantage as opposed to reverse discrimination produced opinions on affirmative action among whites that were (1) more coherent with their views on other race policies; (2) associated more closely with their opinions on policies plausibly, but not explicitly, implicating race (such as welfare); (3) linked more tightly to negative emotions provoked by preferential treatment; (4) more consistent with their general political views; (5) more evocative of prejudice and misgivings over equal opportunity; and (6) less evocative of the tangible threats that affirmative action might pose to their family and group and of the political principles that affirmative action might violate. These differences suggest that by promoting rival frames, elites may alter how issues are understood and, as a consequence, affect what opinion turns out to be.
Social Cognition – Guilford Press
Published: Mar 1, 1990
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