, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 225-256

The Implications of Framing Effects for Citizen Competence

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Abstract

Social scientists have documented framing effects in a wide range of contexts, including surveys, experiments, and actual political campaigns. Many view work on framing effects as evidence of citizen incompetence—that is, evidence that citizens base their preferences on arbitrary information and/or are subject to extensive elite manipulation. Yet, we continue to lack a consensus on what a framing effect is as well as an understanding of how and when framing effects occur. In this article, I examine (1) the different ways that scholars have employed the concepts of framing and framing effects, (2) how framing effects may violate some basic criteria of citizen competence, and (3) what we know about how and when framing effects work. I conclude that while the evidence to date suggests some isolated cases of incompetence, the more general message is that citizens use frames in a competent and well-reasoned manner.