Frame contestation

Abstract from Boscarino, J. 2015. Setting the Record Straight: Frame Contestation as an Advocacy Tactic. Policy Studies Journal, Vol x

Policy scholars recognize that most policy arenas are characterized by competition among interests advancing different problem frames with conflicting problem definitions and/or solutions. At the same time, there is little research that empirically analyzes the dynamics of such framing contests. Using a case study of energy policy advocacy by the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Fund across three decades, I examine the tactics that interest groups employ when faced with agenda conflict. Contrary to what most policy research suggests, I find that interest groups do not avoid public clashes with their competitors; rather, they often willingly engage in confrontational framing techniques. I call this activity frame contestation, and it involves attempts at discrediting opponents’ factual claims, policy ideas, and/or group character. The study reveals interesting differences between groups in the specific types of frame contestation employed. In particular, the use of character frames that attack an opponents’ reputation appears to be linked to group ideology and orientation toward the business community. These findings enhance our understanding of advocacy group decision making and focus our attention on the role of frame contestation in agenda setting and policymaking outcomes.

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