Media critics frequently complain about the tendency of reporters to cover political news using partisan conflict or partisan game frames, which describe policy disagreement as sites of partisan conflict where the parties can score “wins” or “losses.” Such frames, thought to decrease trust and increase partisan polarization, may be particularly dangerous when used in the coverage of public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We report a survey experiment where 2,455 respondents were assigned to read coverage of the pandemic that was framed in non-partisan terms, in terms of partisan conflict, or as a game where one party was winning and the other losing. Contrary to expectations, we find no effect of these frames across a broad range of opinions about and actions related to the pandemic, with the exception of a small negative effect of partisan game-framed coverage on the desire to consume news about the pandemic. These results suggest that partisan framing may not have negative effects during a public health crisis or, alternately, that such effects are difficult to detect in real-time using traditional survey experiments.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
I thank Chris Federico for comments on an early version of this experimental design.
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