Policy Goals, Public Rhetoric, and Political Attitudes


Thomas E. Nelson is associate professor of political science, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210-1373 (nelson.179@osu.edu).


Political communicators can frame the debate over controversial public issues by emphasizing which policy goals deserve highest priority. This research examines how such rhetoric affects political attitudes by influencing the importance individuals attribute to competing values. I examine three specific rhetorical strategies: goal ranking, issue categorization, and institutional role assignment. Support for this approach comes from experimental studies in laboratory and survey settings. Frames affected not only opinions on the issues, but also the participants’ judgments of the relative importance of competing policy goals. These findings should deepen our understanding of how political persuaders can shape public opinion through the framing of policy choices.