Effects of politicized media coverage: Experimental evidence from the HPV vaccine and COVID-19

Erika Franklin Fowler, Rebekah H. Nagler, Darshana Banka, Sarah E. Gollust

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


Although concerns about politicization of health and science are not new, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified attention to how political disagreement over scientific guidelines and recommendations might influence attitudes and behaviors about the health topics in question and might even spill or carry over to affect other attitudes important to public health. The literature employs differing definitions of politicization—at times referring to controversy in the public sphere, at others referring to the exploitation of the uncertainty inherent in science, and at still others referring to whether the issue enters political discourse—all of which are viewed as distinct dimensions by the public. What is not known is how these different aspects of politicization influence public attitudes about the health topics and or broader attitudes about scientific guidelines, and—assuming adverse effects—what strategies might be effective at mitigating the consequences. This paper draws on a survey experiment of 3012 U.S. respondents fielded in summer 2020 that was designed as a pilot study to assess the effects of different dimensions of politicization. Findings do not suggest that one type of politicization is necessarily more pernicious than the others. In fact, all types of politicization increased negative emotional responses and confusion, both with respect to the health topic in question (HPV vaccine and COVID-19) but also on other domains, although opinions about policy were unaffected. The findings also suggest that inoculation may have potential as a messaging strategy for blunting the adverse effects of exposure to politicization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMolecular Biology and Clinical Medicine in the Age of Politicization
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages34
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Publication series

NameProgress in molecular biology and translational science
ISSN (Print)1877-1173

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • Carryover effects
  • Controversy
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • HPV vaccine
  • Media
  • Political discourse
  • Politicization of science
  • Public health
  • Public opinion
  • Uncertainty

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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