Narratives and the Policy Process: Applications of the Narrative Policy Framework. Chapter 5: Lost in Translation: Narrative Salience of Fear > Hope in Prevention of COVID-19

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Using short, policy-image-like narratives, we explore the relationship between narrative agreement and narrative impacts in the case of COVID-19 in the US. Building upon previous research which identified attention narratives focusing on problems “stories of fear” and those focusing on solutions “stories of hope,” we use a narrative survey experiment of the general public (n=1000) to test the salience of problem and solution narratives and if they impact agreement with Center for Disease Control (CDC) prevention guidelines. Our findings are 1) fear story agreement is partisan but hope story agreement is not 2) fear story is the more salient of the two, 3) narrative agreement for both fear and hope were related to CDC safety guideline agreement, but were partisan, and 4) exposure to neither narrative impacted likelihood to agree with the guidelines as compared to a control group. Our findings are consistent with previous work indicating a Democratic party preference for stories of fear, where Democrats were more likely to support policy action. While we find that agreement with our narratives and guidelines is related, neither narrative treatment successfully altered support for CDC guidelines, suggesting a potential limit for the influence of narratives to either change or reorder existing preferences in highly salient and partisan issue areas like COVID-19 and suggesting a need for more research into the dynamics of narrative attention.


Narratives and the Policy Process: Applications of the Narrative Policy Framework by Holly L. Peterson; Chad Zanocco; and Aaron Smith-Walter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


COVID-19 (Disease), Political aspects, United States, Social aspects, fear--political aspects


Peterson, Holly L., Chad Zanocco, and Aaron Smith-Walter. 2022. “Lost in Translation: Narrative Salience of Fear>Hope in Prevention of COVID-19”, in Narratives and the Policy Process: Applications of the Narrative Policy Framework, Michael D. Jones, Mark K. McBeth, and Elizabeth A. Shanahan (eds.), Montana State University Library, 116-137.
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