How Do Individuals Use Their Identities in Claims-Making Aimed at Politicians?

Last week, I showed that individual claims-making on the Terri Schiavo case does not simply mirror those ideas discussed in mainstream media.

This, week I show how ideas are used in emails sent to Florida Governor Jeb Bush supporting and opposing his intervention.

Percentage of Frames Used to Support and Oppose Intervention in Emails to Bush

List of                                   Support Intervention                      Oppose Intervention
Frames                               (N of emailers = 1,533)                   (N of emailers = 976)    Total N
Death with Dignity                      24%                                               74%                            315***
Disability                                       91%                                                  7%                            407***
Right to Life                                  91%                                                  7%                            631***
Religious                                       63%                                                 35%                           211
Legal                                               74%                                                 24%                          851***
Medical                                          64%                                                 34%                          331
Political                                          47%                                                 51%                          958***

Note: Percentages do not equal 100% percent because 2% of the emails either did not mention a frame in their short email (e.g., “Save Terri!”) or the frame fell into the “other” category. Since the emails in the “other” category could not be meaningfully organized, they are excluded here.

* denotes p-value> .05   **denotes p-value> .01 ***denotes p-value>.001

 First, we see that frames are generally used to stake out different positions. Individuals supporting intervention are more likely to discuss the disability, right to life, and legal frames than individuals opposing it. Opponents of intervention are more likely to mention the death with dignity and political. Although some of the frames are clearly tailored to support a particular point of view and course of action (e.g., the death with dignity, disability, and right to life frames), this is not universally true. Political and legal frames are used to both support and oppose Bush’s intervention. In this case, individuals use these frames in more particularistic ways – a legal frame to support intervention and a political frame to oppose it.

Second, there are differences between supporters and opponents of intervention in terms of their use of identity. The tables below compares the frames used by individuals who do and do not deploy an identity in their emails. The tables also shows whether individuals supported or opposed intervention. This allows for more direct comparison.

Support Intervention
Identity Deployed Identity  not Deployed
Death with Dignity 4.1% 5.9%
Disability 23.8% 24.5%
Right to Life 52.8%*** 24.7%***
Religious 8.3% 8.8%
Legal 53.0%*** 31.2%***
Medical 10.3%*** 17.0%***
Political 20.9%*** 36.1%***
Oppose Intervention
Identity Deployed Identity  not Deployed
Death with Dignity 26.2% 26.1%
Disability 3.7% 2.7%
Right to Life 7.6%* 3.3%*
Religious 9.6% 7.3%
Legal 23.5% 22.8%
Medical 13.2% 11.2%
Political 59.6%* 51.0%*

* denotes p-value> .05   **denotes p-value> .01 ***denotes p-value>.001

Supporters of intervention who deployed one or more identities in their emails were more likely to frame their claims using rights language – i.e., the right to life and legal frames – than those who did not. Again, this largely can be explained by the “Thank You Bush” email campaign discussed last week.

The tables also indicate that individuals strategically use identity, particularly when individuals disagree with their political target. Opponents of intervention who deploy an identity in their claims-making are significantly more likely to discuss a political frame in their emails than individuals who do not deploy an identity. A closer analyses of the data confirms that individuals opposing intervention also are more likely to use a political identity in their emails – and that more than 75% of individuals opposing intervention identify as fellow Republicans; the party with which Bush is affiliated (analyses not shown).  In other words, some individuals strategically use an identity they share with their target in order to argue against a particular course of action.

Of course, individual experience shapes political engagement and claims-making, which means not all identities are used in such a clear cut fashion. Supporters and opponents of intervention use familial, occupational, religious, or person-with-disability identities in their emails to Jeb Bush.

Want to learn more?

Read our paper: Rohlinger, Deana, Christian Vaccaro, Miriam Sessions, and Heather Mauney. 2015. “Individual Claims-Making in the Terri Schiavo Case.” Social Currents. Available online (DOI: 10.1177/2329496515603726) and in print soon!

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About Double take Sociology

I am a professor of sociology at Florida State University. I research (and write about) social movements, mass media and politics. My new book is "Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America" (2015, Cambridge University Press). Be sure to visit my website at www.DeanaRohlinger.com!
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