Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

International Relations

First Advisor's Name

Paul A. Kowert

First Advisor's Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Nicholas G. Onuf

Third Advisor's Name

Felix E. Martin

Fourth Advisor's Name

Russell E. Lucas

Keywords

Framing effects, transnational threats, foreign policy, security studies, media framing, public opinion, framing, infectious diseases

Date of Defense

11-9-2011

Abstract

The United States has been increasingly concerned with the transnational threat posed by infectious diseases. Effective policy implementation to contain the spread of these diseases requires active engagement and support of the American public. To influence American public opinion and enlist support for related domestic and foreign policies, both domestic agencies and international organizations have framed infectious diseases as security threats, human rights disasters, economic risks, and as medical dangers. This study investigates whether American attitudes and opinions about infectious diseases are influenced by how the issue is framed. It also asks which issue frame has been most influential in shaping public opinion about global infectious diseases when people are exposed to multiple frames.

The impact of media frames on public perception of infectious diseases is examined through content analysis of newspaper reports. Stories on SARS, avian flu, and HIV/AIDS were sampled from coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post between 1999 and 2007. Surveys of public opinion on infectious diseases in the same time period were also drawn from databases like Health Poll Search and iPoll. Statistical analysis tests the relationship between media framing of diseases and changes in public opinion.

Results indicate that no one frame was persuasive across all diseases. The economic frame had a significant effect on public opinion about SARS, as did the biomedical frame in the case of avian flu. Both the security and human rights frames affected opinion and increased public support for policies intended to prevent or treat HIV/AIDS. The findings also address the debate on the role and importance of domestic public opinion as a factor in domestic and foreign policy decisions of governments in an increasingly interconnected world. The public is able to make reasonable evaluations of the frames and the domestic and foreign policy issues emphasized in the frames.

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