The Political Effects of Opioid Addiction Frames

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Unlike media coverage of previous drug epidemics, coverage of opioids focuses on Whites and is often sympathetic. Treatment policies garner widespread support. Does sympathetic coverage of Whites cause support for public health over punishment? Does sympathetic coverage of Blacks have the same effect, or is sympathy racially selective? Prior research neglects these questions, focusing on negative messages about non-Whites. In preregistered experiments, including a national population-based survey, we vary both valence and race using fully controlled yet realistic news stories. Sympathetic frames of White and Black users both increase White support for treatment, but the former has larger effects. This racially selective sympathy is explained by racial attitudes. Unsympathetic frames have no effects, pointing to the limits of racial antipathy. Sympathetic stories about Blacks’ stigmatized behavior can increase support for assistance over punishment, but the weaker effect highlights the importance of racially selective sympathy as a distinct concept from racial antipathy.

Publication Status
In Press
The Journal of Politics