Publications of Erik Peterson

The Electoral Consequences of Issue Frames

What happens after issue frames shape public opinion? We offer an account of the downstream effects of issue frames on candidate choice. We then use three studies combining issue framing experiments with conjoint candidate choice experiments to directly assess these downstream effects. Despite an ideal setting for elite influence on public opinion, we find that frames ultimately have modest effects on how the public later evaluates politicians. Our theoretical framework highlights two sources of this disconnect. Frame-induced opinion change is only one component, often outweighed by other factors, in candidate choice, and the issues most amenable to framing are the least relevant for evaluating candidates. This introduces a new consideration into debates about the political consequences of issue frames. Even after they change the public’s policy opinions, issue frames may still have limited implications for other political outcomes.

Costly Values: The Limited Benefits and Potential Costs of Targeted Policy Justifications

Can politicians use targeted messages to offset position taking that would otherwise reduce their public support? We examine the effect of a politician’s justification for their tax policy stance on public opinion and identify limits on the ability of justifications to generate leeway for incongruent position taking on this issue. We draw on political communication research to establish expectations about the heterogeneous effects of justifications that employ either evidence or values based on whether or not constituents agree with the position a politician takes. In two survey experiments, we find small changes in support in response to these types of messages among targeted groups, but rule out large benefits for politicians to selectively target policy justifications toward subsets of the public. We also highlight a potential cost to selective messaging by showing that when these targeted messages reach unintended audiences they can backfire and reduce a candidate’s support.