The evolution of elite framing following enactment of legislation

Michael W. Gruszczynski, Sarah Michaels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The study of policy framing enables the investigation of how elites conceptualize policy issues. While the dominant investigative work on elite framing has been within the mass media, we demonstrate the utility of an elite framing approach in a political institution, the U. S. Congress. We argue for moving to a "life-cycle" approach to policy framing that recognizes the evolution of elite framing attempts as implementation of a law deviates from its legislative intent, basing our approach out of the issue-attention cycle theory put forth by Downs (Public Interest 28:38-50, 1972). Framing efforts by policy advocates do not end after legislation has been enacted or policy changed. Elites who have been unsuccessful in achieving their policy aims continue to advocate for their preferred outcomes by altering their framing strategies. We demonstrate this by applying evolutionary factor analysis to investigate 10 Congressional committee hearings held between 1957 and 2006 pertaining to federal funding for the Garrison Diversion Unit in North Dakota. From the perspective of proponents of diverting water from the Missouri River, how the Congressional debate over the Unit progressed constituted policy regression. This is reflected in the evolution of elite framing over the period studied. Our analysis uncovers the emergence of four evolutionary frames. Initial frames emphasized the benefits to be derived from water diversion, while subsequent frames reflected a more defensive posture emphasizing the limited harm that water diversion would cause. This research demonstrates the consequences of legislative implementation delay for elite framing attempts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-384
Number of pages26
JournalPolicy Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Congress
  • Evolutionary factor analysis
  • Policy framing
  • Policy regression
  • Water diversions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • Public Administration
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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