What makes gun violence a (less) prominent issue? A computational analysis of compelling arguments and selective agenda setting

Lei Guo, Kate Mays, Yiyan Zhang, Derry Wijaya, Margrit Betke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Despite several transient spikes in response to the deadliest mass shootings, the U.S. population continues to perceive gun violence as less important than other issues, and public opinion remains divided along partisan lines. Drawing upon literature of compelling arguments and partisan media, this study investigates what kind of news framing—episodic framing that focuses on individual stories or thematic framing that emphasizes broader context—makes gun violence a more or less prominent issue. Specifically, this study uses the state-of-the-art machine-learning model BERT to examine 25 news media outlets’ coverage of gun violence, and then pairs the results with a two-wave panel survey conducted during the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. Results demonstrate that episodic framing of gun violence in the elite, mainstream media increased the issue salience among conservatives. However, exposure to episodically framed coverage of gun violence in like-minded partisan media made conservatives believe the issue was less important.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)651-675
Number of pages25
JournalMass Communication and Society
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes

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