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Policy Sciences

, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 359–384 | Cite as

The evolution of elite framing following enactment of legislation

  • Michael W. GruszczynskiEmail author
  • Sarah Michaels
Article

Abstract

The study of policy framing enables the investigation of how elites conceptualize policy issues. While the dominant investigative work on elite framing has been within the mass media, we demonstrate the utility of an elite framing approach in a political institution, the U.S. Congress. We argue for moving to a “life-cycle” approach to policy framing that recognizes the evolution of elite framing attempts as implementation of a law deviates from its legislative intent, basing our approach out of the issue-attention cycle theory put forth by Downs (Public Interest 28:38–50, 1972). Framing efforts by policy advocates do not end after legislation has been enacted or policy changed. Elites who have been unsuccessful in achieving their policy aims continue to advocate for their preferred outcomes by altering their framing strategies. We demonstrate this by applying evolutionary factor analysis to investigate 10 Congressional committee hearings held between 1957 and 2006 pertaining to federal funding for the Garrison Diversion Unit in North Dakota. From the perspective of proponents of diverting water from the Missouri River, how the Congressional debate over the Unit progressed constituted policy regression. This is reflected in the evolution of elite framing over the period studied. Our analysis uncovers the emergence of four evolutionary frames. Initial frames emphasized the benefits to be derived from water diversion, while subsequent frames reflected a more defensive posture emphasizing the limited harm that water diversion would cause. This research demonstrates the consequences of legislative implementation delay for elite framing attempts.

Keywords

Policy framing Evolutionary factor analysis Congress Policy regression Water diversions 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The research for this paper was made possible with the support of The Canadian Studies Research Grant Program, Canadian Embassy, Washington, D.C., and the University of Nebraska Foundation Fund for Research on the U.S. Congress, Lincoln, Nebraska. Thanks go to Grace York, University of Michigan, who made key documents available, Kristin Koch and Joan Larson, University of Nebraska, who supplied research assistance, Michael W. Wagner, University of Nebraska, and Amber E. Boydstun, University of California-Davis, who provided technical advice and Monica Gattinger, University of Ottawa, who pointed us toward key references. An earlier version of this paper was presented in Midwest Political Science Association, March 31, 2011 Annual Meeting, Chicago, Illinois. The authors thank two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political Science and Nebraska Public Policy CenterUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnUSA

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