Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Health Promotion, Education and Behavior


The Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health

First Advisor

Christine Blake


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program serves 46 million people but is controversial. The media is positioned to influence political and public opinions about SNAP policy. This study identifies the SNAP media discourse and investigates perspectives of SNAP participants and frontline workers about the program.

I employed a mixed-methods design with two aims. Aim 1 gathered 295 articles across six news outlets, semi-inductively coding the articles for characters, assignment of responsibility, and framing of the article. I then ran chi-square tests for difference between employed frame and responsibility and employed frame and political ideology.

Aim 2 collected a sample of 20 frontline workers and SNAP participants across South Carolina. I conducted semi-structured interviews about perspectives of the SNAP program through reactions to vignettes reflecting the media frames from aim 1. Data drew from emergent methodology and elements of discourse and schema analysis.

Aim 1 found that the most common characters were politicians (n=187) and SNAP participants (n=180). The most mentioned entity type of responsibility was governmental (24%). The employed frames were cost of the program (53%), individualism (16%), health (12%), and fraud (11%). Articles with a cost frame were more likely to present the government as responsible for addressing hunger (p<.01). Articles from liberal outlets were more likely to employ a health frame and articles from conservative outlets were more likely to employ a fraud frame (p< .01).

Aim 2 found conflicting logics of respondents stemmed from a Bootstrap Ideology, built on values of meritocracy, individualism and work ethic. Respondents discussed the cost frame in terms of levels of scale. The fraud frame by describing ethical performance of agency. The individualism frame through decision-making and negotiating success and the health frame through personal freedom related to regulation of allowable foods under SNAP policy.

Media focus on cost, individualism, and fraud rather than health points to the need for public health researchers and practitioners to act as advocates for nutrition assistance programs and policies. Understanding how people rationalize their opinions could help researchers and policy-makers develop and evolve policies that are flexible and adaptive to how different people might interpret specific policies.