Framing public discussion of gay civil unions

Vincent Price*, Lilach Nir, Joseph N. Cappella

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

114 Scopus citations


Although the framing of public opinion has often been conceptualized as a collective and social process, experimental studies of framing have typically examined only individual, psychological responses to alternative message frames. In this research we employ for the first time group conversations as the unit of analysis (following Gamson 1992) in an experimental study of framing effects. Two hundred and thirty-five American citizens in 50 groups (17 homogeneously conservative groups, 15 homogeneously liberal groups, and 18 heterogeneous groups) discussed whether or not gay and lesbian partnerships should be legally recognized. Groups were randomly assigned to one of two framing conditions (a "homosexual marriage/ special rights" frame or a "civil union/equal rights" frame). Results indicated framing effects that were, in all cases, contingent on the ideological leanings of the group. The "marriage" frame tended to polarize group discussions along ideological lines. Both liberal and conservative groups appeared to find their opponents' frame more provocative, responding to them with a larger number of statements and expressing greater ambivalence than when reacting to more hospitable frames.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)179-212
Number of pages34
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
VINCENT PRICE and JOSEPH N. CAPPELLA are professors in the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, where LILACH NIR is a postdoctoral research associate. This research was supported by grants to Vincent Price and Joseph N. Cappella from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Views expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect opinions of the sponsoring agencies. The authors thank Yariv Tsfati, Jenny Stromer-Galley, Danna Goldthwaite, Anca Romantan, Tresa Undem, Jo Piazza, Son-Ho Kim, Clarissa David, Masaki Hidaka, Emily West, Eun-Kyung Na, Anthony Danna, and Lisa Rand for their assistance, and three anonymous reviewers for the comments on an earlier draft. Address correspondence to Vincent Price; e-mail:


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