Tracking Framing Effects in the McCain Climate Ad

As I wrote last week, in John McCain's recent television ad focusing on global warming, he frames his position as a pragmatic "middle way" approach between the two extremes of denying there is a problem and resorting to heavy taxation and regulation. The ad even ends by offering up the complementary frames that global warming is in fact a national security problem and involves a moral duty to future generations. Perhaps most notably, the ad opens by using imagery of more intense hurricanes, a "pandora's box" framing that has led to claims of alarmism directed at advocates such as Al Gore.

So in the span of 30 seconds, there is a message or frame offered that will resonate with almost everyone, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike.

You can watch this frame resonance work in real time with an innovative online evaluation at While viewing the ad, a panel of participants indicated their positive and negative levels by moving their mouse from left to right on a continuum. The responses were recorded in quarter-second intervals and reported in the form of curves. The participants' emotions were measured using the Ayer Emotion Battery. Participants were also asked pre- and post-viewing questions.

What's interesting from the results, is that in the beginning of the ad, Democrats respond positively to the opening pandora's box frame focusing on hurricanes, all three partisan groups decline in reaction to the discussion of two gridlocked polar extremes on the issue, and then Republicans spike favorably to the frame focus on national security and moral duty respectively.

A similar method called "dial groups" has been used by the GOP pollster Frank Luntz to test language on climate change for Republican and industry clients. Luntz is widely credited with figuring out the language and frames to downplay the urgency of climate change. See the YouTube clip below.

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