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Toward a Theory Relating Political Discourse, Media, and Public Opinion


Adam F. Simon; e-mail:


This paper presents a multimethod investigation of framing in the government–media–public interaction during the so-called partial-birth abortion (PBA) debate in the U.S. Operationalizing framing as the use of the word “baby” or “fetus,” content analysis first shows that opposing political elites employed almost exclusive vocabularies in attempts to justify their views and shape attitudes. Time-series analysis then charts the path of “baby’s” discursive dominance from congressional discourse through news and editorials to citizens. Finally, experimental results support 2 microlevel hypotheses. First, uptake—exposure to articles featuring the exclusive use of “baby” or “fetus,” respectively, increased or decreased support for banning PBA. Second, emergence—participants exposed to discourse using both terms converged upon a response independent of the words’ relative proportions. In contrast to probabilistic survey response models, these findings support the idea that a kind of public reason can emerge from the interaction of citizens’ judgment processes and elite communication.