Are Americans really okay with torture? The effects of message framing on public opinion

Joan M. Blauwkamp, Charles M. Rowling, William Pettit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


In December 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on CIA detention and interrogation practices from 2002–2009. Several survey organizations then released polls that appeared to show a majority of Americans supportive of the CIA program, prompting such news headlines as ‘Polls Show a Majority of Americans Support Torture’ and ‘Let’s Not Kid Ourselves: Most Americans are Fine with Torture’. The authors of this article were skeptical of these conclusions. They therefore conducted a survey experiment in which they explored whether slight variations in how this issue is framed – e.g. referencing the 9/11 terrorist attacks, linking the policy to the George W Bush administration, identifying the specific tactics used on detainees or emphasizing the broader consequences for American interests abroad – impact public support for torture. They found that respondents can be primed to express slim support or substantial opposition to the policy based on which of these considerations are called to mind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-475
Number of pages30
JournalMedia, War and Conflict
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • foreign policy
  • information processing
  • news
  • public opinion
  • survey research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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