American Political Science Review


Political Preference Formation: Competition, Deliberation, and the (Ir)relevance of Framing Effects

a1 University of Minnesota


One of the most contested questions in the social sciences is whether people behave rationally. A large body of work assumes that individuals do in fact make rational economic, political, and social decisions. Yet hundreds of experiments suggest that this is not the case. Framing effects constitute one of the most stunning and influential demonstrations of irrationality. The effects not only challenge the foundational assumptions of much of the social sciences (e.g., the existence of coherent preferences or stable attitudes), but also lead many scholars to adopt alternative approaches (e.g., prospect theory). Surprisingly, virtually no work has sought to specify the political conditions under which framing effects occur. I fill this gap by offering a theory and experimental test. I show how contextual forces (e.g., elite competition, deliberation) and individual attributes (e.g., expertise) affect the success of framing. The results provide insight into when rationality assumptions apply and, also, have broad implications for political psychology and experimental methods.

c1 James N. Druckman is Lippincott Associate Professor and a McKnight Presidential Fellow, Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota, 1414 Social Sciences, 267 19th Avenue S., Minneapolis, MN 55455-0410 (