Reading Between the Lines: Welfare Chauvinism and Depictions of Deservingness in Canadian Print News

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Wallace, Rebecca
Welfare Chauvinism , Deservingness , Framing , Canada , Social Assistance , Media , Canadian Politics , Social Policy , Media Framing , Indigenous Peoples , Immigrants
Welfare chauvinism – the barring of minority groups from access to social benefits – is a major issue affecting many welfare states around the world. Although at first glance Canada appears to be an “exception” to this exclusionary sentiment, more recent evidence suggests that Canadians are increasingly inclined to restrict both immigrants’ and Indigenous peoples’ access to social assistance in Canada. This dissertation examines how perceptions of immigrants’ and Indigenous peoples’ deservingness are codified and transmitted through public discourse in Canada, specifically analyzing the ways that they are framed in news media. Exploring coverage of welfare recipients in Canadian major dailies, this dissertation analyzes the ways that immigrant and Indigenous beneficiaries of social assistance are depicted differently from non-Indigenous, native-born Canadians when it comes to a variety of deservingness perceptions, and asks how these deservingness frames affect public opinion about redistribution more generally. Utilizing three original data sets, this dissertation includes: 1) A framing analysis that compares the framing of immigrant, Indigenous, and general recipients of welfare across a number of deservingness markers in print media. 2) A public opinion survey that analyzes perceptions of deservingness for immigrant, Indigenous, and general Canadians. 3) A news framing experiment that tests how the deservingness frames found in news coverage of welfare recipients affect readers’ attitudes toward Indigenous, immigrant, and general beneficiaries of social assistance. This project principally finds that immigrants are framed as significantly more deserving than general Canadians and Indigenous peoples when it comes to perceptions of reciprocity – assumptions about economic contributions to Canada – in news coverage of welfare, while Indigenous peoples are framed as slightly more lazy than non-Indigenous and immigrant beneficiaries. The results of the experiment suggest that the deservingness frames elicit substantive effects on support for recipients’ access to welfare but are conditioned by the recipients’ identity. In effect, the results of the study suggest that deservingness cues in news coverage can affect public perceptions about who ought to benefit from social assistance that may have larger effects on attitudes toward redistribution more generally in Canada.
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