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Parties' Utilisation of Issue-Specific Frame Strategies

Policy Analysis
Agenda-Setting
Policy-Making
Camilla Bjarnøe
Department of Political Science & Public Management, University of Southern Denmark
Camilla Bjarnøe
Department of Political Science & Public Management, University of Southern Denmark

Abstract

Conventional wisdom and scholarly research have demonstrated that subtle differences in how parties frame policy questions have a substantial impact on public opinion formation and public policy. A central aspect of party competition is therefore to define the understanding – or framing – of policy questions in the public debate. Despite the obvious relevance of how policy questions are framed in the public debate, little is known about the frame strategies applied by political parties. This paper identifies and examine how parties use four different frame-strategies: withdrawing, talking past, counter-framing, and adoption, respectively. The paper posits that besides ideological belief, the framing process in the public debate likewise constrains how parties utilize frames. The paper therefore theorizes that parties who find the dominant frame ideological favorable utilize it to defend its dominant position. In contrast, parties who find the dominant frame unfavorable both adopt it and meanwhile try to bring in an alternative to the debate. If parties want to capture the median voters, it may be difficult to ignore an establish understanding in the public debate, even though it may be ideological unfavorable. The utilization of the four different frame strategies were explored using a novel design in which the framing of four individual policy questions was examined in two broadsheet newspapers during two decades. The results show that the leading mainstream party from each parliamentary bloc frames much alike, although different ideological patterns could be detected. Both parties most often adopt the dominant frame and more so for the party who finds the frame most ideological favorable. The party who finds it most unfavorable will meanwhile talk past the dominant frame by promoting an alternative frame and provide a counter-frame more often than the other party. Taken together, the paper provides a more nuanced view on how parties utilize frames.