What Draws Politicians’ Attention? An Experimental Study of Issue Framing and its Effect on Individual Political Elites

  • Stefaan Walgrave
  • Julie Sevenans
  • Kirsten Van Camp
  • Peter Loewen
Original Paper


What politicians devote attention to, is an important question as political attention is a precondition of policy change. We use an experimental design to study politicians’ attention to incoming information and deploy it among large samples of elected politicians in three countries: Belgium, Canada, and Israel. Our sample includes party leaders, ministers and regular members of parliament. These elites were confronted with short bits of summary information framed in various ways and were then asked how likely it was that they would read the full information. We test for three frames: conflict, political conflict, and responsibility. We find that framing moderates the effect of messages on politicians’ attention to information. Politicians react more strongly (i.e., they devote more attention) to political conflict frames than to non-political conflict frames and they react stronger to political responsibility attributions than to non-political responsibility attributions. Conflict frames attract more attention than consensus frames only from members of opposition parties. Political conflict frames attract more attention from government party politicians. These effects occur largely across issues and across the three countries.


Framing Political elites Experimental design Comparative research Attention Information-processing Agenda-setting 



The paper draws on data gathered in the framework of the INFOPOL-project. INFOPOL is supported by the European Research Council (Advanced Grant ‘INFOPOL’, No. 295735) and the Research Fund of the University of Antwerp (Grant No. 26827). Stefaan Walgrave (University of Antwerp) is principal investigator of the INFOPOL project, which has additional teams in Israel (led by Tamir Sheafer) and Canada (led by Peter Loewen).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 21 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 21 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefaan Walgrave
    • 1
  • Julie Sevenans
    • 1
  • Kirsten Van Camp
    • 1
  • Peter Loewen
    • 2
  1. 1.University of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  2. 2.University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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