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Race and Poverty in America: Public Misperceptions and the American News Media

Martin Gilens
The Public Opinion Quarterly
Vol. 60, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp. 515-541
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2749633
Page Count: 27
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Race and Poverty in America: Public Misperceptions and the American News Media
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Abstract

Over the past decades, the black urban poor have come to dominate public images of poverty. Surveys show that the American public dramatically exaggerates the proportion of African Americans among the poor and that such misperceptions are associated with greater opposition to welfare. In this article I examine the relationship between news media portrayals and public images of poverty. I find that network TV news and weekly newsmagazines portray the poor as substantially more black than is really the case. In more detailed analyses of newsmagazines, I find that the most sympathetic subgroups of the poor, such as the elderly and the working poor, are underrepresented, while the least sympathetic group-unemployed working-age adults-is overrepresented. Finally, these discrepancies between magazine portrayals of the poor and the true nature of poverty are greater for African Americans than for others. Thus the unflattering (and distorted) portrait of the poor presented in these newsmagazines is even more unflattering (and more distorted) for poor African Americans.

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