Political Science


Pearson-Merkowitz, Shanna

Advisor Department

Political Science




Media, Tone, Framing, Marriage Equality, Public Opinion, Policy


The struggle for equality is nothing new in this country. Every minority group has faced it’s own hardships when trying to advocate for the advancement of their people. One of the most recent struggles has involved the LGBT community and their pursuit of equal marriage laws nationally. Currently the campaign for marriage equality has had success in nine states and the District of Columbia, each of which now grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, thirty states have enacted constitutional bans on same-sex marriage (NCLS 2013). Currently 49% of the population endorses full and equal marriage rights for same sex couples while only 44% oppose it (Pew Research Center, 2013). The campaign has gained supporters from influential politicians, actors, and advocates nationwide. With the recent hearings in the Supreme Court national media attention is at an all time high. This increased media coverage presents an interesting question for researchers.

When telling a story the media chooses how to present the facts of the event to its viewership. The two main tools the media utilized when reporting an event are the tone and frame of the story. Tone refers to if the story is covering a “positive” event or a “negative” event. Tone is created through use of specific language that conveys these conditions to the audience. The frame of the story is the subject the story revolves around. Researchers James Avery and Mark Peffley (2003) found that the tone and frame of media coverage affected the opinions of individuals regarding welfare policy. They found that negatively toned articles elicited negative feelings about welfare policy. They also found that the framing of the story (whether the subject was a white or a black mother) affected how the public viewed the success/ failure of the policy.

I attempt to use the techniques of Avery and Peffley’s experiment to determine if media coverage of same-sex marriage affects public opinion on policy issues relating to same-sex couples. Participants were given one of five articles to read: a control article, a positively toned article framed around a gay couple, a positively toned article framed around a lesbian couple, a negatively toned article framed around a gay couple, and finally a negatively toned article framed around a lesbian couple. Immediately following the reading of the article participants were asked to complete a survey, which evaluated their attitudes towards issues such as same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting as well as evaluative statements regarding the couple featured in the article. The two hypotheses for this experiment are that participants exposed to the negative stimuli will express a less favorable attitude towards same-sex policies than those who were exposed to the positive stimuli. The secondary hypothesis is that participants who receive stimuli framed around the lesbian couple will be more sympathetic to the couple than those participants who received the stimuli framed around the gay male couple.

This experiment presents a valuable opportunity to further study the influence of media coverage on public support for policy. Expanding the current body of research to include the effects of media on social changes such as marriage equality is crucial for the understanding of political scientists, politicians, and advocacy groups. Understanding the relationships associated with media influence and public support can help campaigns predict the likelihood of success (if noticeably more negative attention is being given to the story of example) as well as allow these campaigns to better craft stories that will positively influence the likelihood of success within their desired outcome.