Date of Graduation

12-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Graduate School

Advisor

Geoboo Song

Committee Member

Hank Jenkins-Smith

Second Committee Member

Brinck Kerr

Third Committee Member

William Schreckhise

Fourth Committee Member

Sara Gosman

Keywords

energy policy, fuel extraction, hydraulic fracturing, narrative policy framework, policy elite, policy process, public perception, structural topic modeling

Abstract

The use of hydraulic fracturing (HF) technologies to extract oil and gas in the United States has sparked contentious policy debates, producing inconsistent and inefficient policies that have done little to address the impacts of HF in any comprehensive way. Debates are accompanied by competing policy narratives that position HF as either an environmental threat or an economic opportunity, but little is known about how policy narratives around HF are used by individuals. This dissertation systematically examines how individuals cognitively internalize elements of competing HF policy narratives. Organized into three empirical chapters, this dissertation analyzes narrative cognition (Jones, Shanahan, and McBeth 2014) around HF, providing a rare look at policy elites, those engaged in the energy policy subsystem with the resources and potential to influence HF policy development. The first empirical chapter applies structural topic modeling to examine how policy elites cognitively internalize elements of policy narratives, finding that elite assessment of the overall utility of HF correlates with aspects of the narrative elements used to think about HF. OLS regression analysis and Bayesian Posterior Simulation results indicate that socially constructed worldviews drive policy elites’ narrative cognition in theoretically expected ways regardless of their overall perception of the utility of HF. Building on research that identifies political sophistication as fundamental to belief-driven attitudes (Michaud, Carlisle, and Smith 2009; Ripberger et al. 2012), the second empirical chapter compares cognition patterns of policy elites with members of the general public to examine the role of cognitive sophistication in elite narrative cognition. Empirical evidence supports theoretical expectations, indicating that worldviews have a stronger influence on narrative cognition for those with greater cognitive sophistication. The third empirical chapter builds on recent work by Lawlor and Crow (2018) to analyze how socially constructed risk frames support narrative cognition. Mediation analysis results indicate that socially constructed risk frames support the cognitive internalization of narrative elements and guide assessments of risk and benefit toward HF. Overall, the empirical and theoretical contributions of this dissertation deepen our understanding of policy narrative cognition and contribute to the development of several policy process theories including the Advocacy Coalition Framework, the Narrative Policy Framework, and Cultural Theory. Each empirical chapter discusses relevant practical and methodological implications of the study.

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