Weber suggests framing budget cuts in personal, concrete terms increases "red/blue" agreement

Friday, Mar 24, 2017
by lesliej

Elke Weber, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, has long considered how the framing of economic costs and benefits to consumers affect their economic decision-making behavior.  In light of potentially contentious national budget conversations, Weber and Columbia University professor Eric Johnson undertook a survey to test whether framing costs and savings in concrete and personal terms rather than in aggregate terms or as benefits to the country as a whole, would reduce disagreement about outcomes.

The research used the Trump White House’s “America First Energy Plan,” which states that it would “eliminate harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Obama Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the US rule.” The projected benefit of these changes would “help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next seven years.”  The study provided participants with the option of foregoing the increase in wages to protect the rule or roll back the plans for the rule and receive the wage increase.  Half of the participants, however, saw the change described as “a benefit for all American workers of $30 billion dollars over seven years;” the other half saw “an annual benefit for each worker of $29 dollars for each of seven years.”

Overall, a majority of participants favored keeping the rule intact.  However, about 12% more people wanted to keep the rule when the benefits of dropping them was described as the smaller, more personal and concrete $29 per year.  The more startling result was that in the aggregate frame, the gap between self-described Republicans and Democrats was 53%, but when the proposed change was described as a $29 annual increase, the two groups moved closer together, and the gap shrank to 36%.

Weber and Johnson discuss the details, results, and implications of their study in the online news site Quartz.

Anne Treisman 1935 - 2018