Framing Support for the Supreme Court in the Aftermath of Bush v. Gore

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Abstract

Public support for political actors and institutions depends on the frames emphasized in elite debate, especially following a political controversy. In the aftermath of Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court made itself the object of political controversy because it effectively ended the 2000 presidential election. Opponents of the decision framed the Supreme Court ruling as partisan and “stealing the election,” while supporters framed it as a principled vote based on legal considerations. Using survey data, we examine how framing the controversy in these terms shaped the Court's public support. In so doing, we examine the distinction between specific support (e.g., confidence in officeholders) and diffuse support (e.g., institutional legitimacy). We find that framing the decision in terms of partisan decision making influences specific support, but it does not affect diffuse support. However, framing the justices’ motives in terms of ending the election, a specific consequence of the decision, reduces diffuse support.

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