Policy frames, metaphorical reasoning, and support for public policies

Richard R. Lau, Mark Schlesinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


This article evaluates the predictive value of a new theory for understanding public support for alternative solutions to policy problems, which we call policy metaphors. A policy metaphor represents a particular form of cognitive framing that makes use of commonly understood social institutions and judgments about their effectiveness to form "archetypes" against which proposed solutions to new policy problems are compared. We test the extent to which both understanding of and preference for particular policy frames predicts the nature and strength of policy choices by a representative sample of the American public. After controlling for factors that past research has shown to be important in understanding public opinion, including general partisan and ideological attitudes, self-interest, political values, and emotions, the cognitive frames specified by the general theory of policy metaphors are shown to strongly predict public support for hypothetical solutions to three different policy problems. These frames also predict support for President Clinton's 1993-94 health care reforms after controlling for those same conventional predictors. Most importantly, we demonstrate that these cognitive frames help constrain the beliefs of even the least politically aware members of the general public. Discussion centers on the implications of this new approach for understanding public opinion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-114
Number of pages38
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Cognitive frames
  • Health care reform
  • Policy metaphors
  • Public opinion

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