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Message Received : How Politicians and the Media Influence Attitudes on Immigration


Public opinion on the importance of the immigration issue varies over decades, years and even months, while feelings on the issue vary between individuals even in the same political party. I argue that in order to understand these opinions on immigration, we must examine the messages sent from politicians and the media, in the form of agenda- setting and framing. Using three original datasets derived from computerized and manual content analysis, I study British newspapers and politicians, identifying how messaging varies between sources and with what outcomes. Through time series analysis, I find that the British media and politicians consistently influence the perceived importance of immigration over long periods of time, though other major events, such as the 2008 economic crisis, can interrupt this influence. Therefore, it is not only a question of whether agenda-setting works, but also when. Following this analysis, I examine whether different newspapers maintain different kinds of framing and agenda- setting in Britain, finding that variation exists between newspapers. Moreover, I establish the need to consider the powerful effect of positive frames on feelings about immigration, as well as the importance of considering other frames that link immigration to critical issues, such as the economy or crime. I find that this latter type of frame increases negative feelings about immigration whereas negative frames have no effect on negative feelings. Finally, I examine whether politicians also vary in their use of frames on immigration--not only between parties, but also within them. I find that such variation does exist among British politicians, and that the use of frames is not only influenced by demographic considerations of a politician's district, but also the party politics at play--whether the political seat is competitive or safe. The dissertation reaffirms the importance of messages in influencing opinions on immigration, and it provides a thorough investigation of the different forms these messages take, and how they are used effectively by the media and politicians

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