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Framing the Basic Income: An Experimental Study of How Arguments and Metaphors Influence Individuals’ Opinion Formation

  • Thomas Legein EMAIL logo , Audrey Vandeleene , François Randour , Pauline Heyvaert , Julien Perrez and Min Reuchamps
From the journal Basic Income Studies


Using an experimental design, this paper tackles the question of the framing impact of metaphors by focusing on the opportunity to implement a basic income (BI) system in a given polity. We take advantage of the preliminary stage of the BI debate in Belgium to study the influence of discursive strategies on the opinion formation process of individuals, since carefully choosing the arguments employed to address this question can help increase its psychological feasibility. Our experiment aims at determining to what extent the confrontation of individuals to metaphors illustrating the BI system impacts the way they apprehend its implementation. We show that very light variations in an informative text can induce major differences in the opinion formation process of the participants. BI proponents should thus pay attention to which metaphors are put forward in the public debate, as this could modify its outcome.


We would like to express our gratitude to the two anonymous reviewers and the Editor of Basic Income Studies for their insightful comments throughout the evaluation process. For all the meaningful exchanges, we also thank the participants to the conferences where previous versions of this article were presented, notably the MetaPol conference held in Liège in 2016, the annual conference BELGIUM: THE STATE OF THE FEDERATION and the 18th BIEN CONGRESS 2018 in Tampere. Because their answers are the breeding ground for our analysis, we are greatly indebted to the several hundred respondents to our experiment. Finally, we are also grateful to Frédérique Depas for her research assistance as well as to Yannick Vanderborght and Philippe Van Parijs for their useful comments on earlier drafts and their insights on the choice of the metaphors. Jérémy Dodeigne has been the master of the statistical analyses of our many experiments and this article is definitely his, too. Needless to say, however, that all remaining errors are ours. The research reported in this article was supported by the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique — FNRS under grant no. PDR-T.1036.15.


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Published Online: 2018-12-12

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