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Public opinion and the war of frames in Italy and the United States

Francesco Olmastroni
Università degli Studi di Siena
Francesco Olmastroni
Università degli Studi di Siena
Open Panel

Abstract

By using the war on Iraq as a case study, this research focuses on the elite and media framing of this event in order to study the interactions between the political elite and the mass public in Italy and the United States during the early and on-going stages of the military crisis (April 2002 – March 2007). The research is mainly directed at exploring whether and how decision-makers tracked and responded to public opinion in presenting their foreign policy choices. In doing this, it also addresses other issues, such as what strategies and approaches governments adopted to influence public opinion, whether these strategies changed over time, and how the effects of framing varied depending on whether the public was exposed to alternative positions on the issue (framing in competitive environment) rather than one-sided communication (framing in uncontested settings). The research finds a reciprocal relationship between what politicians present to the public and what people think about the issue. In particular, until the public is force-fed the government’s one-sided view on the issue and no competing persuasive frames are offered in the news media, people are likely to embrace the government’s line. When alternative interpretations become available and compelling enough to win the frame contest, citizens are more likely to reject the government’s position. If this is the case and if the issue is particularly important to the average citizen, the government is more likely to re-shape the content and/or the framing of the policy.