The voter ID debate: Exploring news media and political elite framing of voter ID laws in the US and the UK

Alonso Curbelo, Ana (2024) The voter ID debate: Exploring news media and political elite framing of voter ID laws in the US and the UK. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis analyses the discourse surrounding voter identification (ID) requirements in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), focusing on how this controversial voting law is framed by political elites and portrayed in the news.

Over the past decade, conservative elites in the UK and US have passed voter ID requirements (Brennan Center for Justice, 2023b; Elections Act, 2022), on the insistence that the “integrity of elections” needs to be protected. However, voter fraud by impersonation, which is the only form of fraud a voter ID requirement can address, is extremely rare in both countries (The Heritage Foundation, 2023; Electoral Commission, 2022a). Concerns have been raised around the potential impact of these electoral measures on the access to voting of already disadvantaged groups, who are statistically less likely to own the ID required to vote (Combs, 2016; Hicks et al., 2015; Stanford, 2022a; Wang & Nittoli, 2012).

Voter fraud allegations have also gone hand in hand with a decrease in public confidence in elections (Berlinski et al., 2023; Clayton et al., 2021). Despite evidence of voter fraud being extremely rare in both countries, opinion polls show that sections of the British and American public view voter fraud as more common (Electoral Commission, 2022b; Fisher & Sällberg, 2020; Pew Research Centre, 2021). This gap between reality and perceptions is a disconcerting trend for the legitimacy of elections and trust in democratic systems.

This raises the following questions: If there is no available evidence of widespread voter fraud, on what grounds do those who advocate for voter ID laws justify them? What arguments inform the formulation of these electoral reforms? And what is driving differences in public confidence in electoral integrity? While experimental and survey-based studies find political elite’s framing and news consumption to influence public trust and attitudes towards electoral reform, research on these areas, especially in the UK, remains sparse.

To examine political elite rhetoric over voter ID, the key research questions are: (1) How do political elites in the UK and the US frame the issue of voter ID in legislative debates? (2) How does political elite framing of the policy differ based on party affiliations? To examine news coverage of voter ID requirements, as well as to trace temporal changes in news media framing of the issue, the key research questions are: (1) How has the level of attention from news outlets to the issue of voter ID evolved over time? (2) How does the framing of voter ID differ based on the ideological orientation of outlets? (3) Has news framing of voter ID changed over time, i.e. are there any notable shifts in the way these voting requirements are covered?

This thesis is presented in four standalone research papers, each applying a range of computerised content analysis methods to inductively explore language in political debates and news coverage. The first two studies analyse legislative speeches and news media coverage in the US, respectively, and the last two explore Parliamentary debates about voter ID in the UK and coverage by British news media.

The results from the analyses demonstrate attention to this issue has substantially increased and a more complex framing of voter ID requirements than previously theorised. News media is also mirroring elite debates about voter ID and substantially reporting on Donald Trump’s allegations since 2016, particularly left leaning media in the US and also British news outlets. Overall, the findings presented in this thesis help contextualise links identified in the literature between elite framing, individual predispositions and public support for voter ID and provide important insight into key, yet understudied domains shaping public opinion and electoral reform.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Langer, Dr. Ana Ines and Carman, Professor Christopher
Date of Award: 2024
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2024-84445
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2024 11:08
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2024 15:20
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84445

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