Empathy for the GOP
False equivalency

The Frame Game

Framing no old houseThe federal government has been partially shut down for the first time in 17 years. And we all get a lesson in framing an issue to your own advantage.

How the disagreement that led to the shutdown is framed will determine whether House Republicans, Senate Democrats, or the president will be blamed for it.

Framing is more than the window through which a message is delivered; it's the basic framework on which it is structured. It's the answer to the question you want people to ask, rather than the question that might occur to them naturally.

For example, in a brief statement to the media late last night, Speaker Boehner said, "The House has voted to keep the government open, but we also want basic fairness for all Americans under Obamacare... The Senate has rejected all our offers to go to conference to resolve this."  In other words, we did our part, but the Senate refuses to do what the people want. 

Also yestderday, White House spokesman Jay Carney asked who would be blamed if the government shut down because President Obama refused to sign a budget bill unless it contained a requirement for thorough background checks on gun purchasers. The answer seems obvious -- he would be.  Isn't this situation clearly analogous -- Republicans in the House refuse the pass a budget unless it contains something they want: defunding of the Affordable Care Act. 

There's no sign that any negotiations are underway to resolve the crisis. But it's almost guaranteed that both parties are working hard to avoid blame for it and -- if possible -- to derive advantage from it. 

For example, a polling-based strategy paper by the left-leaning Global Strategy Group shows that "Making the case that Republicans in Congress are 'irresponsible and reckless, putting the economy at risk to advance their political agenda' is more effective than focusing on either do-nothing obstructionism or going backwards ... Behavior-focused descriptors like 'irresponsible' and 'reckless' are more effective than ideology-focused ones like 'extreme' and 'radical.' 'Opposing reasonable solutions' is more troubling for voters than ... labels about inaction, obstruction or dysfunction."

You can be sure that someone like the right-leaning Luntz Group is working on similar messaging strategies for the GOP. For the moment, the GOP messaging machine seems to be focused on positioning Obamacare as "wrecking the economy even more than a shutdown will" and on characterizing the other side as "unwilling to negotiate."

At first blush, this might seem like a savvy move.  Polling shows that the public is pretty evenly split on the Affordable Care Act --  42% unfavorable to 37% favorable, with 20% uncertain. Considering all the money spent attacking the Act, those number are not surprising. 

But initial polling shows the public overwhelmingly opposes shutting down the government to defund or delay Obamacare -- 72% to 22%. Furthermore, 55% of voters say "gridlock in Washington is mainly because Republicans are determined to block any Obama initiative."

Whether those numbers stick hinges on subtle differences in messaging, especially on who wins the frame game.




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