Re-thinking the Elephant v. Donkey form of framing.

Re-thinking the Elephant v. Donkey form of framing.



In framing social issues, each party bases the foundation of their argument heavily on the demographics within their own party.

To set up the argument, it’s important to outline the different demographics that are represented more and less in each party. Women and LGBT people are more likely to identify with the Democratic Party (Gallup 2009, 2012). Older white men have historically dominated the Republican Party historically (National Journal 2012). According to Gallup, Democrats are more likely to be Hispanic, black or other races while the Republican base is mostly white and religious (Gallup 2012). In 2012, 77 percent of Republicans identified as Protestant or Catholic, while only 52 percent of Democrats did (Portero 2012).

Leaders of the American political parties and their elected officials work tirelessly to spin issues in the public sphere in their favor, employing strategies that directly target their base members. To consider the use of demographic based strategy, two issues will be evaluated: Amendment One in NC and abortion.

When issues are inherently about women, the two parties battle to frame the woman’s role within it, based on their political advantages. Amendment One in NC serves as an example party of member-based strategy. Conservatives touted the amendment as preserving traditional marriage, a religious and conservative notion. Democrats demonized the amendment as oppressing women and children, while adding increased limitations on LGBT people.

By emphasizing traditional marriage in campaigning, Republicans alienated LGBT people in favor of affirming that their members, who are primarily straight and cis-gender, are living in accordance with society’s standards and morals. The amendment also has negative impacts on women and children, but Republicans who were advocating for the amendment never addressed this. Through this framing, Republicans passed legislation that further limited the rights of LGBT people and women, who disproportionately do not support their party. Not only did the Republican Party’s appeal solely to its religious, straight and cis-gendered base but they disenfranchised LGBT people and women, on the other side of the aisle, in the process. Democrats tried to re-frame the issue by publicizing the negative effects the amendment would have on LGBT people and low-income women and children, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to counter the Republican base who feared traditional marriage was in jeopardy. This is the kind of political behavior that further polarizes the American public and degrades our system of governance.

The political framing of the abortion issue parallels  the example of Amendment One. Democrats frame the issue in terms of women’s rights while the Republican Party, heavier on men and religious voters, try to remove gender from the entire issue. While the fetus does not have a political holding, those who defend the fetus do, primarily religious voters, hold a very large stake in the GOP. They claim a moral wrong against the abortion of the fetus. The Republican Party is largely Christian (Protestant or Catholic) and appeals to 4 out 5 voters by framing the abortion issue around religious morality, rather than rights of women. The removal of women from the issue also attempts to give Republicans more credibility in regulating abortion, a largely female issue. Elected Republican officials are disproportionately male and it leaves a bad taste in many voters’ mouths when men attempt to exert power over women’s liberty. The Republican solution to this is to focus on a Christian-based view of morality rather than on women’s rights. By removing women from certain social issues, Republicans further disenfranchise the female voters. In removing gender from these debates, men gain decision-making power, leaving women without a significant voice.

Another problem that occurs with using well-established frames to appeal to party members is that both parties miss large opportunities to appeal to political moderates, a group which is continuing to grow and is currently almost 40 percent (Gallup 2012). Nearly 35 percent of LGBT people identify as moderate, as well as 38 percent of non-LGBT people (Gallup 2012). Both parties fail to capture significant gains in this middle when they alienate or appeal solely to a certain demographic, like women, religious people or LGBT people. And then there are demographics that neither side encompasses so they hold no stake in the process and cannot depend on or trust the government. These people are inmates, people with severe mental illness, children and non-citizens, among other groups.  These people are excluded from the political system and must rely solely on others to advocate for them. If political parties are appealing only to their bases, moderates as well as people outside the system are forgotten.

The use of well-established frames appealing to political bases are in stark contrast to the direction many Americans are taking in other fields using innovation, cooperation and daring to challenge the status quo. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten: a polarized political system, exclusion and disenfranchisement of important segments of voters and a failure to engage moderates and vulnerable populations in the political process and governance system.

–Corinne Jurney

Brownstein, Ronald. “The Bucket List: Why Older Whites are Dominating GOP Primaries.” NationalJournal.com. N.p., 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

Gates, Gary, and Frank Newport. “LGBT Americans Skew Democratic, Largely Support Obama.” Gallup, 8 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

Jones, Jeffrey. “Record-High 40% of Americans Identify as Independents in ’11.”Record-High 40% of Americans Identify as Independents in ’11. Gallup, 9 Jan. 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

Newport, Frank. “Republican Base Heavily White, Conservative, Religious.” Gallup, 1 June 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

Newport, Frank. “Women More Likely to Be Democrats, Regardless of Age.” Gallup, 12 June 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2013

Portero, Ashley. “How Do Religious Americans Vote? According to These Charts, That Depends On Their Race.” International Business Times. N.p., 11 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.


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