Beginning in 2004, the FrameWorks Institute initiated a series of integrated research projects designed to identify ways to communicate more effectively about government and its purpose. Sponsored by Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, and the Council for Excellence in Government, Frameworks’ How to Talk about Government Project seeks, as the project sponsors put it, "to help renew the commitment by Americans to government's essential role in achieving the common goals of our society." Achieving this objective necessarily requires a deeper understanding of how Americans currently view government, why they hold the views they do, and the influences that shape those views. Only with such understanding can the negative stereotypes of government be effectively contested and alternative views of government's fundamental public purposes advanced. The goal of this work is not to supplant or substitute popular messages for needed remedies and proven policies. Rather, it is to translate those policies that social policy experts believe will improve our quality of life into ongoing communications that illuminate a positive role for government and build a broader constituency for that vision.

Our Funders

Research was sponsored by Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, and the Council for Excellence in Government.

Research & Recommendations

A comprehensive strategic message memo, How To Talk About Government: A FrameWorks Message Memo  distills the research and explains the recommended strategies to communicate more effectively about government

How to Talk About Government.  This Message Brief distills the research findings and framing strategies explained in the Message Memo, and offers a summary of key communications strategies on the issue.

Rediscovering the Mission: An Analysis of a Priming Survey Exploring Views of Government (2005).  This analysis is based on a priming survey conducted via telephone with 2,603 adults nationwide. Unlike a typical survey, a priming survey incorporates a series of experiments to cue specific frames and frame elements, and then determines the extent to which exposure to the test language subsequently influences reasoning and attitudes. As this report attests, an effective reframing of government requires 1) elevating the visibility of the mission and values of government  (Common Good, Protector of Public Health, etc) and 2) providing the public with a vivid model of the public structures that influence American’s quality of life.

Public Structures as an Explanatory Metaphor for Government (2005).  In this phase of the research, FrameWorks set out to identify promising explanatory strategies that would Americans think more productively and concretely about the role of government in our lives. The “explanatory metaphor” work tested the proposition that the public’s conceptual picture of government can be made richer and more accurate by way of an explanatory model of what government is and does, and that this improved understanding can lead to increased engagement in and support for government.

Without A Mission: An Analysis of Qualitative Research Exploring Perceptions of Government (2005).  The title of this report, Without a Mission, reflects a central finding from the focus groups conducted: people have largely forgotten the mission and values inherent in good government. The focus group research also demonstrated that once people are reminded that government exists to act in the best interest of the common good, improve quality of life, preserve public health, and so on, people become more supportive of government and are more willing to be engaged in making government work well for everyone.

Mind and Monolith: Findings from the Cognitive Interviews about Government (2004).  This report explores the patterns of reasoning that average Americans bring to the topic of government. A key finding from this early qualitative research of semi-structured, one-on-one interviews, is that there the public have two primary associations when thinking about government: they either think of elected officials (the “mind” of government) or of the bureaucracy of government (government as “monolith”).

Thinking Productively About Government, A Supplementary Memo Based On Ten Cognitive Interviews (2005).  A second round of cognitive interviews was conducted to explore whether and how the public’s default, narrow conceptions of government (as elected officials or bureaucracy) might be overcome.

By, or For, the People?: A Meta-Analysis of Public Opinion of Government (2004).  In this review of existing public opinion research, FrameWorks sought to understand the shape of public attitudes toward government, in order to identify the dominant frames that influence how Americans think and talk about government.


Related Research

Framing Budgets and Taxes: A FrameWorks Message Memo (2009).  This important report synthesizes our research findings and recommends strategies to communicate more effectively about budgets and taxes with the American public.

For more information on FrameWorks' research on Budgets and Taxes, click here to be redirected to that page of our website.


Our Products and Tools

How To Talk About Government  is a comprehensive toolkit of our research on Government, containing Frequently Asked Questions, sample op-eds, talking points, and other communications resources on the issue.

FrameWorks Institute

  Updated: 02/06/15