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Backfiring Frames: Abortion Politics, Religion, and Attitude Resistance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 July 2020

Scott Liebertz*
University of South Alabama
Jaclyn Bunch
University of South Alabama
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Scott Liebertz, Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL36608. E-mail:


Following recent insight into how citizens respond to attempts to correct political and salient misperceptions (Nyhan and Riefler, 2010, Political Behavior 32 (2): 303–330), we also expect that certain characteristics will predispose citizens to react strongly to messaging on highly contentious issues. Specifically, we expect that respondents will express an opinion that is even stronger in line with their predispositions when exposed to frames that challenge their position. Using an experiment on abortion opinion embedded in the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), we find little indication that Pro-Abortion Access and Anti-Abortion Access frames move opinion on abortion in the aggregate, but there is evidence that specific characteristics correlate with a “backfire” effect identified by Nyhan and Riefler (2010, Political Behavior 32 (2): 303–330). In particular, gender, religiosity, and “Born-Again” Christian affiliation are all predictive of responding to either the Anti-Abortion Access or Pro-Abortion Access frame by moving the opposite direction as intended on the feeling thermometer.

Copyright © Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2020

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The authors wish to thank Ray Block for essential assistance in the early stages of this project. We also thank the Political Science Department of Florida State University for allowing us to participate in the 2010 CCES.


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