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The limits of framing effects: citizen perceptions of councilor compensation

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Existing research provides evidence that the framing of information can substantively alter how citizens perceive institutions of government and a range of policy issues. While prior work acknowledges that there are limits to the effects of framing, less attention has been given to examining contexts in which framing fails to shape perceptions. Using an exploratory survey experiment, we compare the effects of political knowledge, perceived ideological distance, and more deliberative thinking to framing regarding councilor pay, an issue for which citizens consistently express negative sentiment. When provided real-world information showing local councilors are compensated less than their counterparts in comparable cities, citizens are somewhat more likely to rate their councilors as underpaid. However, framing effects are not observed when respondents use more deliberative thinking. Further, we find that explained variance in perceptions is more strongly associated with political knowledge, ideological distance, trust, and, in the case of deliberative thinking, gender.

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