Framing the opioid crisis: Do racial frames shape beliefs of whites losing ground?

Sarah E. Gollust, Joanne M. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Context: Although research has begun to examine perceptions of being on the losing side of politics, it has been confined to electoral politics. The context of health disparities, and particularly the opioid crisis, offers a case to explore whether frames that emphasize racial disadvantage activate loser perceptions and the political consequences of such beliefs. Methods: White survey participants (N = 1,549) were randomized into three groups: a control which saw no news article, or one of two treatment groups which saw a news article about the opioid crisis framed to emphasize either the absolute rates of opioid mortality among whites or the comparative rates of opioid mortality among whites compared to blacks. Findings: Among control group participants, perceiving oneself a political loser was unrelated to attitudes about addressing opioids, whereas those who perceived whites to be on the losing side of public health had a less empathetic response to the opioid crisis. The comparative frame led to greater beliefs that whites are on the losing side of public health, whereas the absolute frame led to more empathetic policy opinions. Conclusions: Perceptions that one's racial group has lost ground in the public health context could have political consequences that future research should explore.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-276
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of health politics, policy and law
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Sarah E. Gollust is an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota and is an associate director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Research Leaders. Her research examines the influence of media and public opinion in the health policy process, the dissemination of research into policy making, and the politics of health policy. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the American Cancer Society. Joanne M. Miller is an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Political Science and International Relations and the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Delaware. Her research focuses on the psychological and political antecedents of belief in conspiracy theories, the micro and macro causes of political interest, and the motivations for political participation. She has won best paper awards from the following American Political Science Association sections: Elections, Public Opinion, and Voting Behavior; Political Communication; and Political Organizations and Parties; and her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Funding Information:
We thank the participants at the Brown University workshop on the Politics of the Opioid Epidemic for their feedback. We also thank the Grand Challenges Research Initiative at the University of Minnesota for funding and Emma Klinger for her research assistance. We received helpful feedback on earlier versions of this article from participants at the American Political Science Association 2018 annual meeting as well as from participants at the Media and Politics Research Group at the University of Minnesota, particularly Benjamin Toff.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by Duke University Press.


  • Media
  • Opioids
  • Politics
  • Public opinion

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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