Published on April 7, 2021

Despite several transient spikes in response to the deadliest mass shootings, the U.S. population continues to perceive gun violence as less important than other issues, and public opinion remains divided along partisan lines. Drawing upon literature of compelling arguments and partisan media, this study investigates what kind of news framing—episodic framing that focuses on individual stories or thematic framing that emphasizes broader context—makes gun violence a more or less prominent issue. Specifically, this study uses the state-of-the-art machine-learning model BERT to examine 25 news media outlets’ coverage of gun violence, and then pairs the results with a two-wave panel survey conducted during the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. Results demonstrate that episodic framing of gun violence in the elite, mainstream media increased the issue salience among conservatives. However, exposure to episodically framed coverage of gun violence in like-minded partisan media made conservatives believe the issue was less important.

Publisher: Mass Communication and Society (2021)

Collaborators: Kate Mays, Yiyan Zhang, Derry Wijaya and Margrit Betke of Boston University