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What is Issue Framing?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Issue framing in a political context, means presenting an issue in a way that will likely get the most agreement from others. In a mediation process, this process is quite different, and involves identifying core issues between two disagreeing parties, so that issues and facts related to issues may be discussed and resolved.

In political issue framing language is often used as a way to gain compliance on contentious points. Use of language is geared toward knowledge of the audience, a concept first developed by the Greek sophists called kairos. Kairos essentially means knowing what is right and proper to say for a particular concept and at a particular time.

In modern times, issue framing tends to involve a great deal of work. Before political speeches are written, focus groups or surveys may be performed to analyze the most effective strategies for addressing an audience. This is particularly the case with speeches in high profile campaigns or State of the Union Addresses in the US.

Issue framing is certainly not exclusive to any political party. All political parties use key words or phrases, sometimes called sound bytes, which they hope the media will co-opt, thus ensuring a continued reinforcement of a set of ideas. As well, groups devoted to key issues often employ issue framing.

Issue framing may also be called spinning a story. When President Bush gave justification for invading Iraq, he initially used this technique to suggest the purpose of the invasion was to find and eliminate weapons of mass destruction. The words weapons of mass destruction connote fear. In light of the mass destruction at the World Trade Center, his attempt succeeded well. Mass destruction was to be avoided, and war on Iraq would help this. The issue was reframed as the "War on Terror," when searches revealed no weapons.

Obviously, those who do not support the Iraqi war, do not call it the "War on Terror," but are more likely to refer to it as an "unjust war," or a "war for oil." Neither side plays completely fair with the facts, as there are many explanations and arguments both for and against the war. However framing such a divisive issue allows one to advance political goals and influence public thinking.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By sneakers41 — On Feb 21, 2011

Moldova - I have read some of Lakoff’s idea and he really has a interesting way of coloring things. He frames the typical liberal argument as the progressive movement or progressive idea.

He does not use the word liberal because liberal has a negative connotation. Republicans use it all the time on opponents to paint a picture of someone that taxes and spends.

The liberal label has been used on Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and John Kerry and all of these men lost their prospective elections. I guess the label works.

Liberals always try to frame their political views in terms of claiming to help the poor, but in doing so they will raise taxes on everyone so that they can grow the government.

Offering handouts does not help the poor but makes them dependent on the government which is the way liberals want it.

They want these people to remain dependent so that they will continue to vote for the party in the future out of loyalty.

If they really wanted to help these people they would cut taxes on everyone and offer additional incentives for businesses to expand.

This will create the environment in which businesses will offer more jobs allowing the unemployed a chance to find work. This is more meaningful then receiving a government handout because it allowed the person the dignitiy to stand on their two feet and get out of a bad situation with renewed confidence.

I think that the framing of political issues from a liberal point of view is becoming more transparent and more people are becoming aware of what it really means.

By Moldova — On Feb 20, 2011

SurfNturf - I just wanted to say that George Lakoff a University of California at Berkley professor has many interesting beliefs.

He feels that the Republican argument for tort reform by focusing on the greed of these attorneys helps to frame their argument in a powerful way.

He feels that Democrats should look at framing an issue like this by focusing on protecting the interests of the public against doctors that are negligent as well as greedy corporations.

He also feels that the Republicans have been successful in framing their political topics with over 1,400 radio stations along with the Heritage Group.

He feels that the liberal movement has not been successful in this area because Republicans are better organized and know exactly how to frame their argument.

I think that conservative talk radio is successful because that is what the market dictates. For example, Rush Limbaugh has over 20million listeners daily. Air America a liberal talk radio program could not attract enough listeners in order to remain in business.

I think that is the reason why conservatives are more successful in media is because this is the view point that most people agree with.

If you look at the Fox News ratings you can see why they choose Fox and not CNN or MSNBC. The liberal agenda at CNN and more so at MSNBC alienates a lot of viewers and they find comfort in Fox News because their viewpoints are expressed and not ignored.

By surfNturf — On Feb 18, 2011

Subway11 - I think that politicians are pretty adept at framing public policy issues to suit their agenda.

For example, when discussing the need to conserve oil, politicians that are more liberal will focus on the need for conserving oil by forcing car manufacturers to produce more fuel efficient cars by raising the CAFÉ standards.

They will often create a problem in the minds of the American people that they will solve with their intended policy.

This is what issue framing is all about. A more conservative politician would say that we should not have to rely on foreign oil so much and drill in our own backyard.

They will state that drilling in Anwar and off the coast of Florida offers a lot of opportunity for the United States to become free from the dependence of foreign oil.

They may even offer more tax breaks for oil companies so that they can invest in oil refineries. Each side will frame the same issue from their perspective.

By subway11 — On Feb 16, 2011

Anon124000- I think that the writer basically means that framing involves a play on words that is more favorable to the person making the case.

For example, universal health care sounds better than a socialized health care system. This is why the people that bring up this political topic that are in favor of Obamacare talk about it in terms of universal health care and discuss how everyone has a right to receive health care.

Those against the plan use words like socialized medical care system because it draws attention to the economic aspects of the policy. It also highlights how the health care system is no longer a choice which is why the socialized word is used.

By anon124000 — On Nov 04, 2010

Interesting. The frame does not mean to portray the fake into truth. In framing, more focus is on 'coverage and repetition' with some extra flavor to the issue according to the needs of a person / organization. By lighting one part of the story while undermining the other according to the requirement. --M. Riaz, Islamabad

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia...
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