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Food Stamp President? The Science of Why Gingrich's Race-Tinged Label Sticks
In Monday's GOP primary debate, Newt Gingrich earned praise from conservatives while drawing justifiable anger from many for his labeling of Barack Obama as the "food stamp president." As the former Speaker of the House told moderator Juan Williams: "I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job." Gingrich has since used the exchange in a TV ad and a fundraising letter.
The candidate's comments appeal to conservatives and other whites on several counts. First, Gingrich implies by his comments that Americans receiving food stamps are unemployed, playing on a common misperception held by voters. The reality is that many food stamp recipients are low wage workers. The great majority of low wage jobs lack benefits such as health insurance or retirement accounts and provide little or no chance for career advancement.
Second, Gingrich's comments reflect a race-tinged strategy that echoes those used by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and Gingrich himself in advocating for the 1996 welfare reform bill. As South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who is black, told NPR yesterday, it is no longer the "welfare queen," a line oft-touted by Reagan, but "king of the food stamps." As he noted: "I guess a lot of people see it as, if Ronald Reagan can do it and be so lionized by conservatives, then I ought to be able to do it."
During the 1990s, there was a significant amount of research conducted in political science, communication, and sociology on the factors that shape public opinion and media coverage of poverty-related issues such as food stamps. Multiple strands of evidence demonstrate that the same general principles still apply today, despite changes in the political and media environment.
These factors include the stubborn perceptual screen of individualism and belief in limited government, lingering racial stereotypes, and patterns in how the news media, particularly TV news, cover issues related to poverty and low income work.
I reviewed this research in a book chapter published in 2009. The chapter also discussed research proposing alternative communication strategies that might be able to breakthrough these perceptual screens. I have excerpted the relevant portions of that chapter below.
Excerpted from Nisbet, M.C. (2009). Knowledge into Action: Framing the Debates Over Climate Change and Poverty. In P. D’Angelo and J. Kuypers, Doing News Framing Analysis: Empirical, Theoretical, and Normative Perspectives. New York: Routledge.
When reaching judgments about poverty, Americans actively draw upon a few core cultural values. In particular, many survey analyses have identified a belief in individualism as guiding preferences about social spending and policies. The assumption underlying a belief in individualism is that economic opportunity in the United States is widespread and that anyone who tries hard enough can succeed (Gilens, 1996a).
Yet other values also play a role. In particular, individualism is balanced in the minds of many Americans by humanitarianism, or the belief that government has an obligation to assist those who are most in need (Kuklinski, 2001).
In one classic study demonstrating this ambivalence, political scientists John Zaller and Stanley Feldman (1992) analyzed the open-ended answers of survey respondents about whether or not the government should spend more on social services, including education and health. Respondents who opposed increased spending offered thoughts that drew almost exclusively on individualism and a corresponding belief in limited government, emphasizing personal effort, responsibility, and hard work while opposing increased taxes and bureaucracy.
In contrast, supporters of increased government emphasized the core value of humanitarianism—mentioning a duty to help others and the need for the government to provide social assistance—but they also somewhat ambivalently warned against increased taxes and bureaucracy, emphasizing that before receiving assistance, individuals should always try to get along on their own.
More recent work demonstrates the ability of news frames to activate the core values of either individualism or humanitarianism as the criteria by which audiences evaluate anti-poverty initiatives. In an experiment with college students, Shen and Edwards (2005) asked student subjects to fill out an initial questionnaire that measured their orientations towards both individualism and humanitarianism.
Subjects were then asked to read one of two different versions of a newspaper article about poverty. After finishing the article, they were instructed to write down any thoughts that came to mind. As depicted below, the first article by way of the headline and lead paragraph framed the issue in terms of individualism and the second article framed the issue in terms of humanitarianism.
Headline: Welfare Reform Must Require Strict Work Requirements.
Americans remain sharply divided on whether welfare reform should expand work requirements or increase aid to low income families. Welfare critics argue that recent welfare reform legislation doesn’t go far enough to require recipients to work for their benefits. They would like to see tougher work requirements on welfare benefits.
Headline: Tough Welfare Restrictions Said to Hurt the Poor and Children.
Americans remain sharply divided on whether welfare should expand work requirements or increase aid to low income families. Welfare supporters and defenders warn that further restrictions on welfare benefits would hurt children and the poor. They argue that welfare reform should aim to reduce poverty and assist needy families.
Not surprisingly, for subjects who read the first article, they recorded significantly more thoughts that were in line with individualistic objections to welfare (Shen & Edwards, 2005). In comparison, the subjects who read the second article were more likely to write down thoughts that were in line with a humanitarian support for welfare. Yet more importantly, among readers of the first article who also scored high on individualistic values, they generated significantly more opposing statements about welfare than readers who did not score high on this value orientation.
In other words, the news article’s selective emphasis on individual accountability triggered the application and intensification of this core value in evaluating welfare reform. A similar amplification, however, was not found for subjects reading the second article who also scored high on humanitarianism.
Consistent with the study by Feldman and Zaller (1992), these experimental findings provide further evidence that Americans’ views about poverty are developed on an uneven playing field. In comparison to humanitarianism, the core value of individualism exists as a far more potent schema, always ready to be triggered by way of selectively framed arguments and news coverage.
Black Stereotypes in White America
While core values and their activation by news frames play a significant role in structuring American views about poverty, the issue is by no means “race neutral.” In fact, based on analyses of multiple national surveys, the political scientist Martin Gilens (1995; 1996b; 1999) concludes that among whites, the belief that “black people are lazy” is the most important source of opposition to spending on welfare and to programs that provide direct assistance such as food stamps and unemployment benefits.
In one survey analysis, Gilens determined that holding negative perceptions of white welfare mothers led to some increase in opposition to welfare spending, but the increase was limited. In contrast, holding negative views of black welfare mothers resulted in substantial increases in opposition (Gilens 1996b; 1999).
He also compared the relationship between the real world incidence of blacks in poverty to shifts in news magazine and TV portrayals, examining any corresponding changes in the public’s perception of poverty’s racial composition. Between 1985 and 1991, while the actual percent of poor who were black remained relatively constant at about 29%, the percent of blacks featured in media portrayals of poverty increased from 50% to 63%; and public estimates of the percent of the poor who were black increased from 39% to 50%.
Other research is consistent with Gilens’ conclusions. For example, Gilliam (1999) traces the stereotype of the “black welfare queen” to a story recited in stump speeches during the 1976 presidential campaign by Ronald Reagan. Gilliam argues that the image has become a common script found in TV news coverage. In his experiments testing the effects of these stereotypes, Gilliam finds that when white viewers watch TV news portrayals of black mothers on welfare, exposure leads viewers to oppose welfare spending and to endorse beliefs that blacks are lazy, sexually promiscuous, law breakers, and undisciplined.
Similarly, in a separate study analyzing Chicago-area TV news coverage, Entman and Rojecki (2000) found that the dominant visuals in TV stories related to poverty featured blacks. Moreover, beyond images of race, they found that poverty itself was seldom the direct subject of a news story, with reports rarely focused on low income, hunger, homelessness, low housing quality, unemployment, or welfare dependence. Instead, the focus was symptoms associated with poverty, particularly racial discrimination and problems of health or health care.
TV News and Attributions of Responsibility
In combination with core values and stereotypes, the public tends to reach decisions on political issues by reducing them down to questions of responsibility and blame. In answering these questions, the public relies heavily on the news, especially television. Across a series of studies, Iyengar (1991) finds that the mode of presentation across TV reports of poverty can alter viewers interpretations of causal responsibility, (i.e. judgments about poverty’s origins), and treatment responsibility, (i.e. judgments relative to who or what has the power to alleviate poverty).
Based on his analysis of TV reports from the late 1980s, Iyengar (1991) concluded that most reports tended to be packaged in “episodic” terms, focused on a particular event or individual, defining poverty relative to concrete instances. (An example would be a story filed during an especially cold winter in Chicago depicting a single mother struggling to afford the cost of heating.) Far less common were “thematic” TV stories that took the form of more general backgrounders, placing poverty in the context of social conditions or institutions.
In experiments, Iyengar (1991) discovered that, in contrast to thematic reporting, episodic stories led white middle class viewers to assign the causes and treatments of poverty to individuals rather than societal conditions and government institutions. Race also played a role. News coverage of black poverty in general, and episodic coverage of black mothers specifically, heightened the degree to which white middle class viewers held individuals responsible for their economic plight.
Gilliam (n.d. [a]) notes that while the natural tendency for journalists and advocates alike is to tell personal stories about issues with the goal of capturing interest and stirring emotion, episodic presentations are likely to lead viewers to “miss the forest for the trees.” Overwhelmed by personal stories, viewers miss out on any greater understanding of the systemic causes of poverty. In other words, memorability and vividness in news portrayals of poverty likely come at the expense of support for public policy. If journalists and advocates want to focus on institutional fixes to the problem, thematic TV news stories are likely to favor the effort to build public support for these goals.
The Decade After Welfare Reform
In a series of published analyses, political scientists Sanford Schram and Joe Soss identify each of the previously described factors as contributing to the passage in 1996 of welfare reform. Yet as they explain, while many centrist Democrats predicted that the victory would pave the wave for more meaningful anti-poverty policies, the intensive communication campaign needed to build support for the historic legislation might have inadvertently delivered many self-inflicted wounds. In the public’s mind, there remains the interpretation that poverty is fundamentally a problem anchored in personal responsibility and race. Despite many recent focusing events and powerful economic forces, public perceptions today are little changed from the 1980s.
For decades, in attacking the welfare system, conservatives claimed that symptoms associated with poverty such as crime, teen pregnancy, and drugs were in fact the result of a permissive system that allowed lifelong dependency on government assistance. Poverty, in fact, was an outcome of big government. By the early 1990s, centrist Democrats had concluded that conservatives had successfully used welfare to turn the public against any public spending and to stoke the flames of racism.
Yet they reasoned that if Democrats could reform welfare and make government aid recipients appear to “play by the rules,” then they could claim political credit, undercut racism, and mobilize the public in support of more effective anti-poverty policies. Soon after his election, Clinton set the agenda for these efforts, vowing in his 1993 State of the Union address to “end welfare as we know it” (Soss & Schram, 2007).
Playing on the public’s conflicting orientations towards individualism and compassion for the “deserving poor,” both conservatives and centrist Democrats recast policy initiatives in terms of “welfare to work,” and labeled bills using frame devices such as “personal responsibility,” “temporary assistance,” and “family self-sufficiency.” Uglier, more tacit messages evoked the myth of the “black welfare queen” or similar race codes, while the news media’s episodic presentation style and skewed depictions of race further reinforced individual attributions (Schram & Soss, 2001).
This message campaign successfully redefined welfare for the public as a social crisis. In 1992, only 7% of the public named welfare as the most important problem facing the country, but by 1996, this number had crested to 27% (Soss & Schram, 2007). In fact, by 1996, given magnified media attention and selective interpretations that played on public values and racial attitudes, more than 60% of Americans supported handing responsibility for welfare over to the states, and a similar number supported capping welfare benefits at five years. In August 1996, following successful Congressional passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, more than 80% of the public said that they supported Clinton signing the bill into law (Shaw & Shapiro, 2002).
In the decade since 1996, the emphasis on ending “long term dependency” continues to serve as the primary criteria by which many elites and the news media define the success of welfare reform. Specifically, journalists have focused almost exclusively on statistics showing a decrease in welfare caseloads and an increase in the number of individuals who have left welfare to take low wage jobs (Schramm & Soss, 2002).
Tipping Point or Illusion?
By making welfare more “morally demanding,” centrist Democrats hoped to re-instill confidence in the ability of the government to help the poor. Strategists, pundits, and several prominent scholars had predicted that welfare reform would set in motion a powerful policy feedback effect, removing the taint of racism, and opening up the public to support for more effective policies.
Unfortunately, in a systematic analysis comparing multiple indicators of polling data gathered between 1998 and 2004 with data from the late 1980s, Soss and Schramm (2007) find no evidence for this impact. The tendency for Americans to blame poverty on a lack of effort has held steady, feelings toward the poor have grown slightly cooler, willingness to aid the poor has stayed the same or diminished, and racial attitudes still color support for assistance to the poor.
Yet, pointing to more recent polling data, influential progressives remain optimistic that the public is finally ready to get behind a campaign against poverty (Halpin, 2007; Teixeira, 2007). In particular, a widely talked about analysis by Pew (2007) indicates a roughly 10% shift between 1994 and 2007 in the public’s agreement that the government should take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, guarantee food and shelter for all, and help more needy people even if it means government debt.
However, as Soss and Schramm (2007) point out, any comparison to 1994 is misleading, since these polls were taken at the height of the welfare reform campaign. During this period, news attention to welfare soared, with this coverage overwhelmingly negative in tone. By 1998, however, news attention and negativity had both sharply declined (Schneider & Jacoby 2005).
In reality, absent very salient messages attacking welfare programs, what the 2007 polls reveal is a normalization of public attitudes about poverty to their pre-Clinton era levels, rather than any turning point in public sentiment.
A more recent analysis by Dyck and Hussey (2008) supports these conclusions. Although news attention to welfare policy declined between 1999 and 2004, in this coverage, blacks remained dramatically over-represented as the face of America’s poor. Blacks during these years constituted roughly 25% of Americans in poverty, yet more than 40% of news magazine pictures of poor people at Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report featured blacks.
With this racial stereotype remaining salient and few counter-stereotypes available in news coverage, Dyck and Hussey find in their analysis of 2004 survey data that the belief among whites that “blacks are lazy” remained among the strongest predictors of opposition to welfare spending.
Today, these enduring misconceptions about individual responsibility and worth ethic as causal agents of poverty continue to be reinforced by leading political figures, even by moderates such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Though he might be celebrated in the press for promoting innovative anti-poverty policies, Bloomberg’s language and definition of the problem is decidedly old-fashioned.
In speeches, he argues for restoring the “dignity of work” and “ending dependency” by “restoring personal responsibility” through a program that “incentivizes personal decisions” (Bloomberg, 2007.) Each of these phrases serve as powerful triggers, setting in motion a train of thought that narrowly places responsibility for poverty on the individual rather on society and its institutions.
Reframing the Problem and the Solutions
The realities of income disparity, low wage work, and economic insecurity span partisan, ideological, and racial boundaries. Yet in news media portrayals and political messaging, most policy solutions continue to be framed in ways that trigger the perceptual lens of individualism, limited government, and racial bias.
To date, the most comprehensive research on the re-framing of low wage work and poverty was funded by the Ford Foundation and carried out by Meg Bostrom and her firm Public Knowledge LLC. In a series of analyses conducted in 2001, 2002, and 2004, Bostrom identified several alternative frames that might be able to break through the public’s persistent belief that poverty is a matter of individual failure, establishing a train of thought that focuses instead on systemic problems and solutions.
Bostrom (2004) developed and tested several rival interpretations to the traditional sympathy for the poor frame that focused on moral appeals, individual stories and solutions. She examined the influence of these frames as experiments embedded in a nationally representative telephone survey (n=3205). Across sub-samples of survey respondents, she tested the traditional sympathy for the poor frame, a new responsible economic planning frame, and a slightly different responsible community planning frame.
Within sub-samples, these alternative frames were first presented as part of an introductory script and then re-emphasized in selectively worded questions that asked generally about issue priority, issue concern, news attentiveness to the issue, the perceived cause of a decline in wages, followed by an agree/disagree attitudinal question regarding what should be done in terms of policy. This innovative design ensures that across the survey a specific train of thought is established for the respondent before answering a series of neutrally worded key indicator questions.
At the end of the survey, these key indicator questions served as dependent variables to test the relative effects of the three frame conditions. Respondents were asked about the perceived opportunity to get ahead; preferences for government action on the economy; the priority of specific economic policies; beliefs relative to how the economy works; and perceptions regarding who is to blame for poverty. Table 2 summarizes the language used in each frame’s corresponding introductory script to set the train of thought for respondents on the issue of low income work and poverty.
* From Bostrom, M. (2004). Together for Success: Communicating Low-Wage Work as Economy Not Poverty. Report to the Ford Foundation.
Among the frames tested from Table 2, the most effective interpretation for activating support across diverse audiences was the responsible economic planning frame. In the survey analysis, when presented in this context, policies were supported by net margins 4-11% higher than when framed in traditional terms of sympathy for the poor. Moreover, the responsible economic planning frame also rated as more credible than other well worn arguments such as “breaking a cycle of childhood poverty” and the emphasis on a “fair economy” where “people who work hard shouldn’t be poor.”
Perhaps most importantly, in the survey analyses, the economic planning frame was able to generate added support for low wage work issues among non-traditional segments of the public, audiences for whom the typical sympathy for the poor frame might actually activate increased opposition. These groups included the self-identified “working class,” non-college educated and older men, union voters, and older voters without a college education. The frame even appeared to soften opposition to proposals among traditional Republican voters. 
Table 3 reproduces the key differences and points of emphasis that Bostrom identifies between the responsible economic planning frame and the sympathy for the poor frame. In the conclusion to this chapter, we will return to a discussion of what these findings mean for the media strategy of advocates but also for journalists who want to break through entrenched audience filters on the issue.
* From Bostrom, M. (2004). Together for Success: Communicating Low-Wage Work as Economy Not Poverty. Report to the Ford Foundation.
Lessons from UK’s Social Inclusion Movement
The ability of the responsible economic planning frame to unify public support reflects closely the successful efforts in Great Britain by Tony Blair and the New Labour party to redefine anti-poverty initiatives in terms of “social inclusion.” Instead of alleviating the condition of poverty and its implied moral and racial underpinnings, the new social inclusion direction in government was about improving “prospects and networks and life chances” rather than simply raising the dollar amount of wages or redistributing wealth through cash welfare benefits or taxes (Faircloth, 2000).
The language and metaphors of social inclusion are designed to focus attention on the structures and processes that exclude certain groups of individuals from full participation in society, and may offer important clues for advocates in the United States. Similar to the responsible economic planning frame, the logic emphasizes that in a competitive global marketplace, the nation is stronger, more secure, and better off if more of its population can participate fully in the labor force and economy. The metaphor of the “caravan of the desert” has been offered as a frame device to quickly and vividly translate the meaning of social inclusion.
One can picture our nation as a convoy crossing the desert. Everyone may be moving forward, but if the distance between those at the back and [the] rest of the convoy keeps growing there comes a point at which it breaks up.
A Work in Progress: The Re-Framing of Poverty
A few recent policy reports and legislative proposals incorporate elements of the responsible economic planning frame. For example, in 2007, Margy Waller’s Mobility Agenda applied the frame to their own re-formulation of the definition and measure for low wage work (Boushey et al., 2007). This approach defines low wage work as a job that pays less than two-thirds of the median wage, or typical job, held by men. In analyses and graphical displays of data, this recalibration of jobs away from the traditional measure of either below or above the poverty line more accurately and effectively communicates how structural problems in the economy and society are pulling workers apart.
This “much less than the rest” approach shows that for low wage workers their inflation adjusted wages today are roughly equivalent to what they were in 1979. As the authors of the report argue, while remaining accurate, this new metric also fits better with a message that might mobilize broader segments of the public to care about low wage issues. Echoing the economic planning frame as well as social inclusion’s “caravan in the desert” metaphor, the authors’ emphasize that:
An economy that leaves a substantial segment of workers far behind the rest of the workforce is contrary to the national belief that the United States is “one nation, indivisible.”…As a nation, we are stronger and more cohesive if we have an economy that does not allow those at the back to fall so far behind that the essential unit of the nation breaks apart (Boushey et al., 2007 p. 5).
Though for the most part, still focusing on moral calls to action that employ a sympathy for the poor appeal, the Center for American Progress (CAP) has also begun to shift to a responsible economic planning frame, connecting poverty to national economic recovery. For example, in a white paper entitled “The Price of Poverty,” CAP argues that if generations of children remain in poverty as adults, then the trend grows the overall cost of social services and leads to additional costs to the economy in terms of lost tax revenues from adults who would otherwise be working. The report concludes: “Many believe that the moral case for ending child poverty is already clear.
But this research makes clear that failing to tackle poverty today imposes substantial financial costs on society as well.” Other CAP reports have defined programs such as food stamps and home energy assistance and retro-fitting as benefiting efforts at economic stimulus, emphasizing that these “investments” create private sector jobs in the food and housing industry while freeing up money for consumer spending among low income households.
In terms of shifts in news coverage, analyses of print coverage show that there has been some decline in racial stereotypes about poverty (Dyck & Hussey 2008) and an increase in thematic depictions of structural problems and solutions (Gould, 2001; Gould, 2007). Yet there is little research indicating whether or not national TV news has shifted from its’ preferred package of episodic coverage. There is also scant data on racial bias in national TV news, and almost no data on how local television news frames low wage issues.
Specific to amount of attention, these recent analyses show that even as of 2006, media attention to the “working poor” or “low wage jobs” is still relatively limited in comparison to other major policy issues. The 2008 presidential campaign and more recent debate over economic recovery have focused, somewhat vaguely, on “relief for the middle class” with little explicit mention of low wage workers. In addition, few stories about poverty-related issues appear on national television news. Finally, even when poverty or low wage work are mentioned, news attention is frequently incidental to a broader focus on issues such as either health insurance or housing generally (Gould, 2007).
A 2007 seven-part series by the Columbus (OH) Dispatch offers a leading example of how news coverage can successfully re-frame poverty and low wage work around responsible economic growth. In a state ravaged by urban job losses and unemployment, instead of focusing anecdotally on individual stories of struggle, the Dispatch editorial team framed the problem in terms of communities, specifically Ohio’s seven largest cities. In doing so, the newspaper evaded the all too familiar trap of characterizing job loss and poverty as an “us” (the suburbs) versus “them” (the inner cities) problem. Consider the train of thought generated by Dispatch editor Benjamin Marrison in his editorial launching the series. Reflecting on his experience as a young reporter covering Toledo City Hall, Marrison recounted how he asked the then city manager why “anyone in the suburbs should care about Toledo?” As Marrison described:
“A region is like a piece of fruit,” said [the city manager]. “The core is the city. If the core rots, it’s only a matter of time until all the fruit is rotten.” That exchange forever changed my view of cities. It made sense. Although many of us live in the suburbs, we depend on cities for things that are important to us. We also take them for granted….We should all pray for their success. While many of us live and work in the suburbs, the quality of life for all Ohioans will deteriorate if our major cities continue to decline.
Finally, the biggest impact on how poverty and low wage work will be framed by both advocates and the news media will be the message set by President Obama and his administration. However, if Obama’s major campaign speeches and policy papers on the topic are any indication, then it appears as if Obama is not unlike the rest of the progressive policy community: He still lacks a consistent storyline.
For example, he has emphasized heavily in the opening of his speeches a sympathy for the poor moral imperative, telling the story of Bobby Kennedy’s encounter with a hungry child in 1968 and Kennedy’s tearful reaction to reporters: “How can a country like this allow it?” He then uses the story and question as a re-occurring theme throughout the speech (Obama, 2007). On urban poverty, Obama has also emphasized traditional themes of personal responsibility, arguing the “difference it makes when people start caring for themselves,” admonishing fathers that “responsibility does not end at conception,” and asserting that “it makes a difference when a parent turns off the TV once in awhile, puts away the video games, and starts reading to their child, and getting involved in his education” (Obama, 2007).
In addition, simply by way of its politically safe title, the Administration’s “Task Force on the Middle Class,” led by Vice President Joe Biden, risks deflecting further attention away from the needs of low income workers. For example, while several progressive advocates stress that the Administration’s affiliated “green jobs” programs be heavily focused on low-income urban youth, the Vice President officially launched his Task Force initiative with news coverage and an op-ed at the Philadelphia Inquirer headlined “Green jobs are a way to aid the middle class,” a frame device that immediately calls to mind a very different focus and target for the jobs program (MacGillis, 2009).
Still, in a positive sign for low wage advocates, Obama has also emphasized in his public remarks the systemic causes of poverty. In a message that echoes the responsible economic planning frame, he consistently attributes part of the blame for poverty to more thematic realities of the economy:
Today’s economy has made it easier to fall into poverty. The fall is often more precipitous and more permanent than ever before….You used to be able to count on your job to be there for your entire life. Today almost any job can be shipped overseas in an instant…Everyone American is vulnerable to the insecurities and anxieties of this new economy (Obama, 2007).
 Bloomberg, M. (2007, Aug. 28). Address to the Brookings Center, Washington, DC. News from the Blue Room. Available at www.nyc.gov.
 In terms of activating core supporters for low income proposals, Democrats responded positively to all three frame treatments, but in comparison, the responsible community planning frame generated slightly stronger support for specific policy.
 Greg Clark, “Poverty is Too Important an Issue to Leave to the Labour Party,” Conservative Home Blogs, http://www.tinyurl.com/wkjlo. Clark’s convey image is borrowed from journalist Polly Toynbee’s book Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain, London: Bloomsbury, 2003. See Polly Toynbee, “If Cameron Can Climb on My Caravan, Anything is Possible,” The Guardian, November 23, 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,1954790,00.html.
 Somewhat ironically, in 2007, the UK Labour Party, under pressure from Conservatives, seemed to shift in frame towards a more traditional U.S definition of the issue, putting forward a proposal titled “Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility” and introducing “work for the dole” programs, language that mirrors directly the mid-1990s US welfare reform debate. This shift is an example of how frames often translate across national contexts, especially when there is shared political culture. See report at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/08/uk_welfare.html.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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