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Assessing the Breadth of Framing Effects

Issue frames are a central concept in studying public opinion, and are thought to operate by foregrounding related considerations in citizens' minds. But scholarship has yet to consider the breadth of framing effects by testing whether frames influence attitudes beyond the specific issue they highlight. For example, does a discussion of terrorism affect opinions on proximate issues like crime or even more remote issues like poverty? By measuring the breadth of framing effects, we can assess the extent to which citizens' political considerations are cognitively organized by issues. We undertake a population-based survey experiment with roughly 3,300 respondents which includes frames related to terrorism, crime, health care, and government spending. The results demonstrate that framing effects are narrow, with limited but discernible spillover on proximate, structurally similar issues. Discrete issues not only organize elite politics but also exist in voters' minds, a finding with implications for studying ideology as well as framing.