Partisan responses to public health messages: Motivated reasoning and sugary drink taxes

Sarah E. Gollust, Colleen L. Barry, Jeff Niederdeppe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This study examines the public's motivated reasoning of competitive messages about sugary drink taxes, a public health policy approach attempted with some recent success in the United States. In an experiment embedded in a nationally representative survey fielded in the fall of 2012, we randomized participants (N= 5,147) to receive one of four messages: control, a strong protax message, a two-sided message, or a message refuting arguments made in soda company antitax messages. The protax message showed no effects on tax support, while the two-sided message depressed Republicans' support. The refutation message boosted independents' support but produced backlash among Republicans. This motivated response was pronounced among Republicans who were plausibly previously exposed to the sugary drink tax debate. These findings reinforce the communication challenges in an increasingly politicized US health policy discourse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1005-1037
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of health politics, policy and law
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Health communication
  • Health politics
  • Motivated reasoning
  • Public opinion
  • Sugar-sweetened-beverage tax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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