Pruitt, A. S.
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI
Publication year: 2019

Research suggests that dominant cultural narratives, in part, perpetuated by the media, may influence attitudes and beliefs about social problems. In turn, these attitudes and “lay theories” that the public has about a social issue can affect the type of policies that they support to solve the problem.Unfortunately, few studies have directly assessed this relationship. It is important to understand these associations because dominant cultural narratives potentially can impact the level of stigma persons experiencing homelessness experience as well as the types of policies implemented to alleviate their struggles. This study combined exploratory narrative analysis and observational research design 1) to identify the dominant narrative(s) surrounding homelessness in Hawai‘i as perpetuated by the local media; 2) to analyze community members’ exposure to and degree of endorsement of these dominant narratives among stakeholder groups; and 3) to assess the impact of these narratives on community members’ attitudes, beliefs and policies endorsed. Results showed that negative media narratives were the most common narratives in local media coverage, and community members indicated the most exposure to and endorsement of these narratives. Exposure to negative media narratives also had the most impact on endorsed solutions to homelessness. In particular, negative media exposure predicted increased endorsement of basic services and individual-level solutions when mediated by beliefs that homelessness is caused by individual deficits. Exposure to media narratives also interacted with gender and previous contact with persons experiencing homelessness to impact community member attitudes. This work discusses these findings and their implications for research on media, homelessness, and public opinion as well as for local homeless policy and interventions aimed at reducing stigma.