Poverty Messaging

The history of antipoverty initiatives is one of scholars and politicians alike worrying obsessively about which initiatives work and which ones don't, while they have typically ignored the equally important question of how to garner public support for successful initiatives. The purpose of the Poverty Messaging Laboratory is thus to carry out experiments that will provide the first round of evidence on what types of antipoverty messages are most effective in gaining support. Does it work to pitch an appeal in terms of the externalities that poverty generates (e.g., crime, poor health) and hence the money that can be saved by investing in antipoverty initiatives (i.e., the "rational appeal")? Does it instead work better to cast an emotional appeal that focuses on the harm wrought by poverty on blameless children? Does the public have an especially strong commitment to their country (i.e., patriotism) or locality (i.e., community boosterism) and thus respond best to appeals pertaining to local residents? Are some population groups especially responsive to emotional appeals, others to patriotic appeals, and yet others to rational appeals? We will answer these and other questions by carrying out carefully controlled experiments that test the success of competing messages.

With UC-Berkeley's Robb Willer, this policy lab is thus completing a major new study of what works (and what doesn't) in mobilizing anti-poverty sentiment and giving. The experiments assess what types of appeals are most effective in convincing people to care about, support, or invest in antipoverty initiatives. We are experimentally manipulating the appeals and delivering variants of these appeals on BART trains, the Pandora website, Craig's List, and nationally representative samples provided by the Time-Sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS) project.