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What’s the Issue? Changing Frames of Ethanol Policy in Congress and the Media


On June 16, 2011 the United States Senate passed an amendment that dramatically cut ethanol subsidies, long a sacred cow of American politics. Using this surprising event as a starting point, this thesis investigates the debates over ethanol policy in Congress and the media from September 2005 to September 2011. Using quantitative content analysis, I research the “frames” used in ethanol discussions. Framing, defined as elevating the salience of particular policy considerations over others, is an important but under-theorized subject in political science. Treating ethanol as a particularly high-profile case study, I ask the question “Who frames for whom?” and look for patterns of frame transmission by the media to Congress or vice versa. I find that while no clear “leader” exists, interesting patterns characterize who uses which frames and when. In general, the process of issue redefinition is dynamic and chaotic, but the media tends to take negative opinions before Congress and both sides of the ethanol debate show a preference for making theirownarguments over answering the other side’s. This case study in ethanol reframing offers a rich quantitative account of frame transmission that is generally lacking in the literature. While not applicable to all issue areas, the ethanol case provides important and interesting testable hypothesis for further investigation in additional policy areas. 


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