Public opinion on energy development: The interplay of issue framing, top-of-mind associations, and political ideology

Christopher E. Clarke, Philip S. Hart, Jonathon P. Schuldt, Darrick T. N. Evensen, Hilary S. Boudet, Jeffrey B. Jacquet, Richard C. Stedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article, we examine framing effects regarding unconventional oil and gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing (or fracking): an issue involving considerable controversy over potential impacts as well as terminology used to describe it. Specifically, we explore how two commonly used terms to describe this issue – fracking or shale oil or gas development – serve as issue frames and influence public opinion. Extending existing research, we suggest that these frames elicit different top-of-mind associations that reflect positive or negative connotations and resonate with people's political ideology. These associations, in turn, help explain direct and indirect framing effects on support/opposition as well as whether these effects differ by political ideology. Results of a split-ballot, national U.S. survey (n=1000) reveal that people are more supportive of the energy extraction process when it is referred to as shale oil or gas development versus fracking, and this relationship is mediated by greater perceptions of benefit versus risk. Political ideology did not moderate these effects. Further analysis suggests that these findings are partly explained by the tendency to associate fracking more with negative thoughts and impacts and shale oil or gas development more with positive thoughts and impacts. However, these associations also did not vary by political ideology. We discuss implications for communicating risk regarding energy development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-140
JournalEnergy Policy
Early online date4 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • energy development
  • hydraulic fracturing
  • framing
  • risk communication


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