The Journal of Politics


Policy Goals, Public Rhetoric, and Political Attitudes

Thomas E. Nelsona1 c1

a1 The Ohio State University


Political communicators can frame the debate over controversial public issues by emphasizing which policy goals deserve highest priority. This research examines how such rhetoric affects political attitudes by influencing the importance individuals attribute to competing values. I examine three specific rhetorical strategies: goal ranking, issue categorization, and institutional role assignment. Support for this approach comes from experimental studies in laboratory and survey settings. Frames affected not only opinions on the issues, but also the participants’ judgments of the relative importance of competing policy goals. These findings should deepen our understanding of how political persuaders can shape public opinion through the framing of policy choices.

(Online publication June 26 2002)

(Received June 11 2003)


c1 Thomas E. Nelson is associate professor of political science, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210-1373 (