Presidential Framing of Health Inequality from FDR to Trump
November 5, 2021
Drew Halfmann, UC Davis
Research on American framing of health inequality finds that government health policy reports give more attention to inequalities by race and ethnicity than by SES. In this paper, I examine another key site of health inequality framing—presidential messages. Through quantitative and qualitative content analysis of ninety years of messages, I find that presidents mentioned low-income people in more messages and in more committed tones than racially-oppressed people for the entire period. The pattern of these mentions also varied by political party and time. Beginning with Kennedy, Democrats mentioned both low-income people and racially-oppressed people more often than Republicans, and beginning with Reagan, Republicans did not mention racially-oppressed people at all. After Johnson, Democrats mentioned low-income and racially-oppressed people in a smaller percentage of their messages. The only presidents to speak of low-income people in strongly committed tones were Democratic presidents prior to Carter and the only presidents to speak of racially-oppressed people in strongly committed tones were Kennedy and Johnson. The paper explores potential explanations for these partisan and temporal patterns and for differences between government reports and presidential messages.