Priming and Framing: Building on Previous Learning
Two ways in which political advertisements, surveys, or other messaging can influence voters are priming and framing. Priming is “the process of shaping people’s perceptions of a particular issue, figure, or policy” by introducing some content (i.e. a photograph, video, or just spoken words) with a connotation to leads someone to perceive something in a certain way (Kollman 349). For example, a mandate that required voters to read an article arguing that the government should cut spending in a certain area might be primed to vote for Republicans (who tend to support cuts in spending on domestic programs) (Kollman 470).
Framing is a subset of priming that specifically involves introducing an issue to someone while focusing on a particular aspect of the situation. For example, a survey question that engages in framing might say, “Candidate John Jackson intends to keep dangerous criminals off the street, while Marie Johnson wants to let criminals out of jail earlier. Who will you support in the upcoming election?” This example might seem silly, but politicians engage in worse framing in both their campaign ads and their speech.
I initially learned about priming in psychology, but studying public opinion in politics has shown me how psychology intersects with and is applicable to politics. Surveys are critical in both psychological and public opinion research, and priming and framing must be eliminated to get good results.
Kollman, Ken. The American Political System. 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017.