What makes a frame persuasive? Lessons from social identity theory

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Abstract:

We know from the issue-framing literature that politicians 'frame' issues strategically to influence public perceptions and preferences. We also know that there are different framing techniques. What remains poorly understood, though, is what makes a frame persuasive. The proposition put forward in this debate paper is that social psychological research into leadership and persuasion can shed light on this question. Social Identity theorists have shown that influential leaders are crafty 'identity entrepreneurs', whose social influence derives, not from their ability to frame issues, but from their ability to redefine the collective self-understanding. Just how potent this framing technique is becomes visible when examining the way in which radical opposition leaders call the electorate to arms. As will be shown with the help of two examples, by persuading the electorate of an imminent threat to the collective 'us', radical opposition leaders are able to gain considerable control not only over whether an 'issue' becomes regarded as a problem requiring a policy-solution, but also over whose evidence/knowledge counts.

Keywords: EVIDENCE-BASED POLICY; IDENTITY ENTREPRENEURS; IDENTITY THREAT; ISSUE FRAMING; POLICY CHANGE

Document Type: Regular Paper

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/174426412X654059

Publication date: August 1, 2012

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