Framing Matters: Immigration, the Media, and Public Opinion

Committee: Michael Jones-Correa (chair), Suzanne Mettler, Adam Levine

Summary:  My dissertation bridges scholarship on immigration and group threat with research on media framing and public opinion. I use a multi-methods approach drawing on original survey experiment data, survey data, and content analysis to examine and compare the strength of media frames used by immigration advocates and opponents in the United States. I identify three types of frames: (1) group-level frames, (2) individual-level frames, and (3) political frames.  Overall, I argue that anti-immigrant advocates portray immigrants at the group-level, while immigrant supporters primarily use individual-level frames; and that both sides of the immigration debate use political frames, which focus on immigrants’ political power and rights. I pose that this competitive media environment creates a narrative that is distinct from the sum of its parts – where negative group frames coupled with individual positive frames communicate an overall negative view of immigrants, while allowing for individual exceptions to the general rule.  I further suggest that “political frames” add to this narrative by heightening feelings of “threat” among non-Latinos and simultaneously tapping into Latinos’ feelings of solidarity with immigrants.

In Chapter one, I present my theoretical framework, which argues that people incorporate new information on immigration in relation to their perceptions of (Latino) immigrants as a group. Chapter two uses content analysis data of every immigration related article published in the New York Times and Washington Times in 2006, 2010 and 2015. Chapter three presents original survey experiment data comparing the effect of group-centric frames with personal narrative frames on immigration policy attitudes. Chapter four uses original survey experiment data and survey data to compare the effect of political frames on Latinos and non-Latinos’ policy opinions on immigration. Finally, Chapter five considers the political implications of my research findings for scholarship on immigration, the media and public opinion, as well as media framing strategists and political activists.