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Who Should We Blame? Public Opinion and Media Framing of Responsibility for the Housing Market Crash Open Access

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The public's assessments of the state of the economy, measured and aggregated through surveys of consumer sentiment, are capable of predicting economic growth and potentially contribute to economic outcomes. Research has also demonstrated that voting behavior and public opinion regarding political officials are closely related to citizens' subjective assessments of the economy. However, the influence of news reporting on subjective assessments of the economy has not been thoroughly studied. This thesis utilizes theories of news framing to examine the attribution of responsibility in news stories discussing the economy and the potential effects on consumer sentiment of different frames appearing in coverage of the housing crisis that began in 2006.The thesis presents a content analysis of newspaper articles published between August of 2008 and July of 2010 that discuss the ongoing problems in the housing market. The results describe the frequency with which responsibility for the housing crisis was attributed to different categories of actors, primarily “society,” “government actors,” “financial institutions,” and “ordinary people.” Institutional actors, including representatives of both the government and financial institutions, prove to be the focus of most news frames. The monthly results of the content analysis are then compared to the monthly Index of Consumer Sentiment, producing strong evidence of an inverse relationship between the proportion of frames attributing responsibility to societal factors and consumer sentiment. The researcher suggests that an experimental methodology might be employed in future research to better test the nature of this relationship and outlines how the results of the content analysis might be incorporated into experimental treatments.

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