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Media frames, partisan identification and the Australian banking scandal

Pages 73-98
Accepted 21 Aug 2020
Published online: 18 Feb 2021


In 2017 the Australian government appointed a Royal Commission of inquiry into malfeasance in the banking sector. This article reports findings from a 2018 survey on attitudes to financial regulation and a survey experiment testing different media treatments. Attitudes on financial regulation are distinct from left-right positions on redistributive issues; we find no significant relationship between partisan identification and preferences for financial regulation. In the experimental treatment, all three frames catalysed anger and disgust from readers. However, neither of the two strong partisan frames moved policy preferences. The non-partisan frame – which included messages associated with both left and right, and which linked both parties to systemic capture by the banks – was the only article that had any effect on policy preferences, but only with non-partisan identifiers. Our results suggest that persuasive frames focused on the capture of politics by banking interests can move opinions of swing voters on financial regulation.

2017年,澳大利亚政府任命了一个皇家委员会调查金融部门的不当行为。本文报告了两项调查,2018年的调查涉及人们对金融管制的态度。另一项调查测验了不同媒体的态度。对金融管制的态度不同于左右对再分配问题的立场。在党派认同与选择金管制管之间并无明显的相关。根据我们的测试,三种领框架都引起读者的反感。不过,两个很强的政党框架都没有改变政策偏好。非党派框架是唯一对政策偏好有所影响的,但也只涉及非党派认同者,它包含了亦左亦右的信息,两边同银行旳系统性捕获不脱干系。从调查结果看, 集中于银行利益方搞定政治的劝导性框架能够改变摇摆的投票者对金融管制的态度。


We are grateful for valuable research assistance from Tom Nicholls and Hayley Pring. This article has benefited from discussions with panel participants at the 2019 American Political Science Association, and particularly the comments of Lucy Barnes, as well as from the suggestions of the editor and two anonymous reviewers.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).

Notes on contributors

Pepper D. Culpepper is Blavatnik Professor of Government and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and Professorial Fellow of Nuffield College at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on the intersection between capitalism and democracy. In 2018 he was awarded a five-year Advanced Grant from the European Research Council to study the post-crisis politics of financial regulation. His book Quiet Politics and Business Power: Corporate Control in Europe and Japan, was awarded the 2012 Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research. He is the author of Creating Cooperation (2003) and co-editor of Changing France (with Peter Hall and Bruno Palier, 2006) and of The German Skills Machine (with David Finegold, 1999).

Taeku Lee is George Johnson Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His interests are in racial and ethnic politics; public opinion and survey research; identity and inequality; deliberative and participatory democracy. He is author of Mobilizing Public Opinion (2002), Transforming Politics, Transforming America (2006), Why Americans Don't Join the Party (2011), Accountability through Public Opinion (2011), and Asian American Political Participation (2011). Lee serves on the National Advisory Committee for the US Census Bureau.


1 Availability refers to whether or not respondents will have the capacity to understand these frames; accessibility refers to whether or not they have ‘regular or recent exposure’ to the consideration; applicability refers to whether or not, in a competitive context, these frames could fit the phenomenon (Chong and Druckman Citation2007a).

2 We checked our own inductive analysis having two independent readers perform a framing analysis independently, based on a random sample of the articles appearing on the Royal Commission and banking scandals between June, 2017 and November, 2018. The independent readers agreed on four frames: responsibility for regulatory/government failure; victims of banking misconduct; banking system failure; and role of banks in Australia/impact on markets. The first two frames are those we used in our media framing experiment. For further analysis of the media frames used during the Australian banking scandal, see Nicholls and Culpepper (Citation2020).

3 Each article also featured a picture related to the emphasis of the article. We included pictures because they increase verisimilitude – most press coverage that people read of the Australian banking scandal, whether online or in paper, featured accompanying pictures reinforcing a key aspect of the article. The methodological drawback of including pictures is that they may include information beyond that included in the text, which is why we devoted considerable time to identifying pictures that reinforced the core message of the article. The victim-framed article features an editorial cartoon from the Australian Financial Review, showing grave robbers from Commonwealth Bank digging in a graveyard; it also reproduced a tweet that featured in an Australian press article about an individual victim. The regulatory failure article showed a sign held by protestors outside the commission hearings, featuring the slogan ‘Jail-in for bankers not bail-in for deposits.’ The non-partisan article on regulatory capture featured an editorial cartoon from the Australian Financial Review, which showed the head of ASIC, James Shipton surrounded by pigs that looked like piggy banks, representing the banks (see Appendix 1).

4 Breaking up banks in the Australian context refers to separating retail banking from wealth management services, including pension investments.

5 In our survey of 1200 Australians, respondents were asked, ‘Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as Liberal, Labor, National, or what?’ Roughly 31 percent (unweighted) opted for Labor, 24 percent for Liberal, 5 percent for National. About 9 percent volunteered their affiliation with the Greens and an additional 6 percent mentioned some other political party. Exactly 25 percent gave no party affiliation; that quarter of respondents are analysed here as non-partisans.

6 There is a second mode of reasoning by which non-partisans might find the third article more appealing. This interpretation draws on the work of Zaller (Citation1992). Zaller argues that individuals who are moderately aware are likeliest to be responsive to new information and to change their policy preferences. If the reader did not know that it was governments that had allowed the growth of ever larger financial institutions – then it would be the case that this article contains new information to which non-partisans are more likely than partisans to be responsive. We are not able to adjudicate between these two interpretations, since they are observationally equivalent.

7 Extracted factor scores were rotated using oblique rotation (promax option) based on our priors that these economic policy factors might not be independent and might be correlated. The components that load heavily on factor 2 are close to zero on factor 1. Most of factor 1 variables sit close to zero on factor 2 and the highest load (bailing out banks) is only 0.2.

8 This ‘baseline’ model in effect captures what Kinder (Citation1998) referred to as the ‘primary ingredients of opinion.’

9 Our statistical analysis of average treatment effects for this systemic capture frame is unchanged when we control for this difference in educational background.

10 In Appendix 3 we present a causal mediation analysis to consider the potential linkage between the affective response and changes in policy preferences of the non-partisans.

11 We thank an anonymous reviewer for raising the important point that the field dates for our data collection overlap with the summer holiday season. The field dates were chosen as a result of wanting to get the survey into the field as soon as possible after the final hearings of the Banking Royal Commission, when we judged the issue would have maximum salience. While proximity to the summer holidays may have affected recruitment and completion rates for the online panellists, there are no priors we can think of on how the field dates would bias how respondents answer our questions or react to our media treatments.

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