Online and Offline Battles : Usage of Different Political Conflict Frames

Goot, Emma van der; Kruikemeier, Sanne; Ridder, Jeroen de; Vliegenthart, Rens


Conflict framing is key in political communication. Politicians use conflict framing in their online messages (e.g., criticizing other politicians) and journalists in their political coverage (e.g., reporting on political tensions). Conflicts can take a variety of forms and can provoke different reactions. However, the literature still lacks a systematic and theoretically-grounded conceptual framework that accounts for the multi-dimensionality of political conflict frames. Based on literature from political epistemology, political communication, and related fields such as psychology, we present four conceptual dimensions of political conflicts: (1) the style (civil/uncivil); (2) the subject (personal/substantive); (3) whether it is about underlying moral/epistemic principles or not (deep/superficial conflict); and (4) whether it concerns a normative or factual issue. Results of a content analysis of newspaper articles and politicians’ tweets confirm the usage of these conflict dimensions in the Netherlands during a non-election period. Interestingly, most of the conflicts are civil, substantive, and do not highlight deep fundamental clashes. In light of the current societal concerns about the lack of respect in political debates and the deepening of our political divides, these findings can be considered encouraging.