The Journal of Politics


Short-Term Communication Effects or Longstanding Dispositions? The Public’s Response to the Financial Crisis of 2008

Neil Malhotraa1 and Yotam Margalita2

a1 University of Pennsylvania

a2 Columbia University


Economic interests and party identification are two key, long-standing factors that shape people’s attitudes on government policy. Recent research has increasingly focused on how short-term communication effects (e.g., issue framing, media priming) also influence public opinion. Rather than posit that political attitudes reflect one source of considerations more than another, we argue that the two interact in a significant and theoretically predictable manner. To explore this claim, we examine the American public’s attitudes towards the government’s response to the financial crisis of 2008. We designed three survey experiments conducted on a large national sample, in which we examine the influence of (1) group-serving biases, (2) goal framing, and (3) threshold sensitivity. We find that economic standing and partisanship moderate the impact of communication effects as a function of their content. Our results demonstrate how people’s sensitivity to peripheral presentational features interacts with more fundamental dispositions in shaping attitudes on complex policy issues.

(Received May 28 2009)

(Accepted January 05 2010)


Neil Malhotra is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 79704.

Yotam Margalit is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027.