Dissertation Title： "Public Agendas, Government Action, and Health Policy"
This dissertation explores public agendas, government action and health policy. Understanding public opinion is important for two reasons. First, during national emergencies, public opinion must be mobilized, whereby political leaders must urge the public to act in prescribed ways. Research shows that when the public is not supportive of public health policies in which they are urged to change behaviors they will be less willing to comply. On the other hand, public opinion researchers also argue that politicians may be responsive to public opinion, even on low salience issues, because they ultimately require public support to stay in office. Moreover, research suggests that public opinion plays a particularly important role in determining the effectiveness and sustainability of racially targeted governmental policies. Using theoretical frameworks advanced by risk communication and political science literatures, the first two sections of this work explore public attitudes toward state emergency health powers, such as mandatory quarantine or vaccination (in the case of a smallpox attack) and government action to reduce racial/ethnic healthcare inequalities. To do this, I measured the association between public support for policy and several explanatory variables, which have shown in prior literature to be associated with public support for state and federal government policies. The results of the first section suggest that trust in government will be an important factor in predicting public support for mandatory state health powers. The second study shows that public support for federal action to reduce healthcare inequalities has decreased between 1994--2004, and that perceptions of causal responsibility play an important role in determining public support.Responding to findings in section two, I conducted a content analysis in section three to explore how newspapers cover racial healthcare inequalities, and I matched those messages to public opinion data collected between 1994 and 2004. This latter effort illustrates how news frame this issue, and can provide issue proponents with evidence of potential framing effects on the public's evaluation of issues. This work will be useful to public health officials and issue proponents seeking to develop and communicate effective and sustainable policies to reduce risks associated with public health threats and healthcare inequalities.