Voices for Children

Voices for Children: Rhetoric and Public Policy

William T. Gormley
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 198
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  • Book Info
    Voices for Children
    Book Description:

    The United States spends more on programs for the elderly than it does on programs that enhance child development and improve child welfare. Why has public policy neglected the development phase of young Americans' lives not only in substantive dollars spent, but also in program design and implementation? Noted child care and education policy expert William Gormley highlights the portrayal of children's issues in both the mass media and in public policymaking to explain why children have gotten short shrift. A key explanation is the limited mass media coverage of strong arguments in support of children's programs.

    After documenting changes in rhetoric on children and public policy over time and variations across policy domains and government venues, Gormley demonstrates that some "issue frames" are more effective than others in persuading voters. In two randomized experiments, he finds that "economic" frames are more effective than "moralistic" frames in generating public support for children's programs. Independent voters are especially responsive to economic frames. In several illuminating case studies, in Connecticut, Utah, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, he finds that strong rhetoric makes a difference but that it is sometimes eclipsed by even stronger political and economic constraints.

    Voices for Childrenoffers a fresh perspective on raging debates over child health, child poverty, child welfare, and education programs at the federal and state levels. It finds some hopeful examples that could transform how we think about children's issues and the kinds of public policies we adopt.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2403-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Children: Beloved but Neglected
    (pp. 1-18)

    The condition of children in the United States is marked by a puzzling paradox: we view children very positively, but our public policies do not reflect that positive view. The federal government spends seven times as much on senior citizens as it does on children. Although state and local governments spend much more on children than on the elderly, all governments in the United States, combined, spend 2.4 times as much on the elderly as on children.¹ Not surprisingly, given this considerable disparity, children are more likely than the elderly to be poor.

    Poverty among senior citizens has declined dramatically...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Rise of Economic Arguments
    (pp. 19-42)

    In this chapter, I show that the arguments used in support of children’s programs and initiatives have changed since the 1960s, from a heavy reliance on moralistic arguments to a growing reliance on economic arguments. Moralistic arguments remain prominent, however, especially in certain policy contexts, and the mass media have been slow to recognize the rise of economic arguments on social issues. Nevertheless, this shift is important because it signifies a possible change in societal values, interest group tactics, rhetorical choices by public officials, or all of the above.

    Moralistic arguments are usually easy to spot, because they typically use...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Arguments in Different Policy Domains
    (pp. 43-59)

    The rise of economic arguments is more evident in some policy domains than others. These disparities, by policy domain, reflect differences in issue characteristics, historical paths, cultural expectations, repositories of scientific evidence, and levels of mass media interest (see table 3-1). In this chapter, I take a closer look at issue frames employed by children’s advocates in three policy domains: child health, education, and child welfare. A key theme is that frames vary across issues and that some of this is due to the availability of good empirical evidence on the consequences of neglect, as opposed to the consequences of...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Arguments in Different Venues
    (pp. 60-74)

    In contrast to the political branches of the government, the judiciary has long been associated with arguments focused on legal rights and obligations. From the vantage point of federal judges, the key question to be decided is not whether a particular policy is the best possible policy (or whether it is the most popular policy) but rather whether it is consistent with the U.S. Constitution, relevant federal statutes, and relevant judicial precedents. State judges, for their part, focus more on their respective state constitutions and state statutes, though they must also be mindful of the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE How Frames Shape Public Opinion
    (pp. 75-99)

    A frame may be thought of as a speaker’s emphasis on a subset of potentially relevant considerations when describing an issue or event.¹ When advocates and public officials self-consciously use particular frames in public debates over children and public policy, they are assuming that frames actually matter, that they shape how citizens think about a problem, and that they affect public support for a specific public policy remedy. Are these assumptions correct? Or are frames largely irrelevant to public opinion?

    A considerable body of literature attests to the ability of issue frames to shape both public perceptions and public support....

  9. CHAPTER SIX Battling for Kids in State Capitols
    (pp. 100-124)

    Children’s policies occupy a prominent place on the agendas of governors and state legislators. The role of state governments in funding and regulating elementary and secondary education has long been of critical importance, and state expenditures on child health, through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), have increased significantly in recent years. More than the federal government, state governments devote a substantial percentage of their time and their financial resources to children. In fact, state governments account for two-thirds of all government spending on children.¹

    In principle, economic frames ought to matter quite a bit to state government...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Capitol Hill Debates about Children
    (pp. 125-143)

    Although notoriously porous and accessible, Congress represents a more daunting battleground for children’s advocates than state legislatures do. Historically, Congress has allocated far more resources to senior citizens than to children. Congress has also authorized tax expenditures for numerous favored constituencies, including the health industry, the defense industry, and the financial industry.

    These patterns are hard to change, especially because powerful lobbyists are strongly committed to the status quo. Even critics of incrementalism as a metaphor for the policy process acknowledge the power of inertia: “Defenders of the status quo usually get what they want: No change.”¹

    Another challenge facing...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Putting Frames in Perspective
    (pp. 144-164)

    In this book, I make several arguments:

    Public policies toward children in the United States have not gone far enough in helping children to escape poverty, disease, and ignorance.

    Strong policy arguments are needed in support of children’s programs.

    Framing is of critical importance to policy arguments.

    Both moralistic and economic frames can promote and justify children’s programs.

    Economic frames are more widely used by children’s advocates today than they were in the 1960s, but they have not been well publicized by the mass media.

    Economic frames are more widely used in some issue areas (early childhood education, child health)...

  12. APPENDIX A Interviews: State Case Studies
    (pp. 165-167)
  13. APPENDIX B Interviews: Congressional Staff
    (pp. 168-170)
  14. References
    (pp. 171-190)
  15. Index
    (pp. 191-198)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-199)