Date of Award

Fall 2023

Degree Type



Political Science

Director of Thesis

Dr. Joshua Meyer-Gutbrod

First Reader

Dr. Kent Germany

Second Reader

Dr. Kent Germany


In this thesis, I track political rhetoric surrounding poverty and welfare from 1950-2005. I first provide thorough context on the history of welfare policy in the United States and the way these issues were framed by politicians leading up to the period my data covers. My analysis centers on 108 political party platforms from the national Republican and Democratic parties and from state parties in North and South Carolina, ranging from 1950 to 2005 (31 of which I located in archives and manually digitized for the first time ever). I explain the significance of party platforms and review the literature on the framing of poverty and welfare that has shaped my analysis. Using a mixed-methods approach, I combine historical qualitative analysis with quantitative automated text analysis to identify rhetoric shifts. I find a stark shift from platforms discussing poverty as a collective, societal issue to be remedied by government intervention (a “thematic framing”) to, in the early 1980’s, discussing poverty as an individual problem that should be solved not through government programs but through work and personal responsibility (an “episodic framing”). This shift occurs top-down, from the national party and followed by the state parties, for Republicans. For Democrats, North Carolina and South Carolina Democrats adopt an episodic framing sooner than the national party. Additionally, I find Republicans and Democrats both using the term “poverty” more in periods where they are “winning” on the issue. I also find that, in the headings for “welfare” sections of party platforms, the two parties use the term “opportunity” in mirroring ways, with Democrats using the language of “opportunity” in the 1960’s, but Republicans picking up the term in the 1980’s and 90’s. My research contributes to the growing base of literature on state party platforms and the study of how state parties interact with the national parties over time, particularly in this period of partisan realignment in the South.

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