Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Framing, Hegemony, New Right, News media, Public opinion, Public policy
Research demonstrates that news media can shape mass opinion on specific public policy issues in politically consequential ways. However, systematic and critical empirical analysis of the ideological diversity of such news coverage is rare. Scholars have also illuminated how and why U.S. economic and social welfare policy has shifted rightward in recent decades, but they have failed to consider media's role in shaping public opinion to democratically legitimate this major reorientation of political economy to favor business and upper-income constituencies. I combine neo-Gramscian theorizations of hegemony, popular common sense and articulation with social scientific research on framing, priming and psychological ambivalence to examine mainstream news coverage of two key policy debates during the neoliberal era: 1) the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, and 2) the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.
Quantitative content analyses of network television and mass-market print news indicates that: 1) coverage focused on a procedural, strategic and tactical narrative that relied overwhelmingly on official sources and included little policy substance. This discourse normalized an elite-centered politics that resonates with and confirms strands of American common sense that support popular civic disengagement, and 2) neoliberal-New Right themes valorizing market imperatives and demonizing social provision dominated alternative frames. Qualitative textual analyses of key artifacts of political discourse shows how such hegemonic messages deployed a conservative-populist rhetoric to effectively obscure corporate and upper-income prerogatives by depicting these policy moves as commonsensical projects that advanced ordinary people's material interests and cultural values. Potentially counter-hegemonic interpretations that drew on culturally resonant fragments of common sense to offer strong challenges to the center-right elite consensus were propagated, but mainstream news virtually ignored these messages. As a result, citizens lacked effective access to a diverse range of messages and to critical information that might have generated more opposition to the right turn in opinion polls. In an experiment, I show that exposure to strongly hegemonic news treatments can cause even low- and middle-income people and those with egalitarian tendencies to express support for neoliberal-New Right economic policies, and that less strongly hegemonic coverage can prompt significantly more opposition.
Guardino, Matt, "Taxes, Welfare and Democratic Discourse: Mainstream Media Coverage and the Rise of the American New Right" (2011). Political Science - Dissertations. Paper 100.