While there is a large literature studying the determinants of public support for European integration, we know much less about the factors shaping attitudes towards various international cooperation initiatives. In this article, we study the possible influence of framing, a mechanism linking pre-existing values and causal beliefs, on preferences for cooperation with the EU. We develop six thematic frames related to the context of international cooperation: economic benefits, security, shared identity, traditional and liberal values, and rules and norms of governance. We test the effects of these frames using a survey experiment conducted in three countries in Eastern Europe—Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine—that are targeted by the integration projects of both the EU and Russia. We find that thematic framing has only small effects on international cooperation preferences: priming liberal values and governance increases slightly support for cooperation with the EU, but the effects of the remaining frames are too small and heterogeneous to be estimated precisely with our sample. Contrary to expectations, some of these effects are exercised by changing the relevant causal beliefs of citizens, even if the thematic frames were not designed to do so.
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See, for example, the data provided by EU NEIGHBOURS EAST project, available at: https://www.euneighbours.eu/en/east/stay-informed/publications/opinion-survey-2019-regional-overview
Except in Ukraine, post-2014 and due to the annexation of the Crimea and the conflict with separatists.
Although the structure and language of the frames were kept very similar, we did not attempt to create equivalence frames, which entail ‘different, but logically equivalent’ phrases (Druckman 2004:671). Yet, ours are not typical issue frames either, as these can be couched in very different language and structure.
To be consistent with the operationalization of the outcome variable, we take the difference between agreement with these statements and the corresponding statements about the benefits of close cooperation with Russia.
Alternative methods of sampling and administration of the survey, for example, online panels of sufficient quality, were not available to us in these countries. Further details on how the survey was conducted are available in Supplementary Material.
During the design stage, we performed statistical power analyses to determine the minimum number of participants that we need to recruit per condition. For 90% power (Type II error probability) and significance level of 0.05 (Type I error probability), to detect a difference of 1 on our scale, with a standard deviation of 1.5 (and a two-sided alternative hypothesis), we calculated that we would need around 50 observations per condition. To account for possible incomplete questionnaires, smaller effect sizes and higher variability, we instructed the partners to collect 180 responses per country (540 total, 77 per condition).
Conditioning on a post-treatment variable, such as the comprehension check, can induce significant bias (Montgomery et al. 2018), so we have to be cautious in the interpretation of the results based on the subset of respondents who passed the comprehension check.
One possible reason for the lack of evidence might have to do with the way we measured the perceived salience of different aspects of cooperation. We allowed the respondents to score each aspect independently, which resulted in highly correlated responses that clustered towards the high end of the scales for almost all aspects. In hindsight, forcing participants to choose the one most salient aspect or to rank order the aspects (cf. Nelson and Oxley 1999) in terms of salience might have been better approaches to measurement. Jaccard et al. (1995) review different methods for measuring belief importance, including free elicitation.
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This work was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovative programme under grant agreement no. 693382.
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Toshkov, D., Mazepus, H. & Dimitrova, A. Framing international cooperation: citizen support for cooperation with the European Union in Eastern Europe. Comp Eur Polit (2023). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-023-00351-7