Presidential Framing of Health Inequality from FDR to Trump
November 5, 2021
Drew Halfmann, UC Davis
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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.