Words matter: The importance of issue framing and the case of affordable housing

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Problem: Does how planners talk about issues have an impact on public support? Purpose: I examine whether the words used to describe a policy make a difference for the level of acceptance of that policy. Methods: I conducted a random survey of suburban residents. One-half of the sample were randomly chosen to answer a question about their support for affordable housing; the other half were asked to answer the identical question except that it substituted the words lifecycle housing for the previous phrase. Results and conclusions: The difference in wording produced a difference in public opinion of more than 30 percentage points, with those whose question referred to lifecycle housing expressing greater support. This difference was significant among White, non-Hispanic respondents; there was no significant difference among other (non-White) respondents. The phrase affordable housing seems to be stigmatized and perhaps associated with race among the residents of this affluent, White suburb. This study examines public support in the context of an opinion survey and these results may not apply to attitudes about actual projects or policies. Takeaway for practice: Under the right circumstances, the words planners use might expand policy options available to local officials. Proper framing may allow some previously infeasible policies to succeed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)222-229
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008


  • Affordable housing
  • Issue-framing
  • Race
  • Suburbs


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