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Original Scholarship Child Health Social determinants of health
Liana B. Winett
Erika Franklin Fowler
Sarah E. Gollust
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Context: Early childhood education (ECE) programs enhance the health and social well-being of children and families. This preregistered, randomized, controlled study tested the effectiveness of communication strategies to increase public support for state investments in affordable, accessible, and high-quality childcare for all.
Methods: At time 1 (August-September 2019), we randomly assigned members of an online research panel (n = 4,363) to read one of four messages promoting state investment in childcare policies and programs, or to a no-exposure control group. Messages included an argument-based message (“simple pro-policy”), a message preparing audiences for encountering and building resistance to opposing messages (“inoculation”), a story illustrating the structural nature of the problem and solution (“narrative”), and both inoculation and narrative messages (“combined”). At time 2 (two weeks later) a subset of respondents (n = 1,436) read an oppositional anti-policy message and, in two conditions, another narrative or inoculation message. Ordinary least squares regression compared groups’ levels of support for state investment in childcare policies and programs.
Findings: As hypothesized, respondents who read the narrative message had higher support for state investment in childcare policies than those who read the inoculation message or those in the no-exposure control group at time 1. Among respondents who were initially opposed to such investments, those who read the narrative had greater support than respondents who read the simple pro-policy message. Those who received the inoculation message at time 2 were more resistant to the anti-policy message than respondents who did not receive such a message, but effects from exposures to strategic messages at time 1 did not persist at follow-up.
Conclusions: Results offer guidance for policy advocates seeking to increase public support for early childhood policies and programs and could inform broader efforts to promote high-value policies with potential to improve population health.
Keywords: persuasive communication, education, early childhood, public policy, health policy, public opinion.
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