The implications of framing effects for citizen competence

James N. Druckman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

834 Scopus citations


Social scientists have documented framing effects in a wide range of contexts, including surveys, experiments, and actual political campaigns. Many view work on framing effects as evidence of citizen incompetence - that is, evidence that citizens base their preferences on arbitrary information and/or are subject to extensive elite manipulation. Yet, we continue to lack a consensus on what a framing effect is as well as an understanding of how and when framing effects occur. In this article, I examine (1) the different ways that scholars have employed the concepts of framing and framing effects, (2) how framing effects may violate some basic criteria of citizen competence, and (3) what we know about how and when framing effects work. I conclude that while the evidence to date suggests some isolated cases of incompetence, the more general message is that citizens use frames in a competent and well-reasoned manner. Key words: framing effects; competence; public opinion; mass communication; behavioral decision theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-256
Number of pages32
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2001


  • Behavioral decision theory
  • Competence
  • Framing effects
  • Mass communication
  • Public Opinion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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