Ideological Health Spirals: An Integrated Political and Health Communication Approach to COVID Interventions

Dannagal G. Young, Amy Bleakley



As evidence mounts regarding Americans’ politically polarized responses to COVID-19, researchers need a comprehensive explanatory model to account for how and why political dynamics operate in the context of health behaviors. By conceptualizing interpersonal discussion and media selection behaviors as outcomes of identity-driven motivations shaped by political and psychological variables, the ideological health spirals model (IHSM) remedies a gap in current empirical analyses of COVID-related behaviors. The model explains how media fragmentation, political polarization, and social sorting reinforce communication discrepancies that create gaps in attitudinal, normative, and efficacy-related beliefs, which then inform health behaviors. This process is cyclical; the beliefs that result from this identity-motivated process support the same identity-driven motivations that again encourage interpersonal network and media selection behaviors. The hope is that health communication scholars and public health experts can use the IHSM to (a) identify the groups least likely to receive or act on the most beneficial health messages and (b) determine the most effective expert-informed regulations, recommendations, and communication strategies to disrupt dysfunctional spirals.



COVID-19, political polarization, media fragmentation, health communication, social identity theory, reinforcing media spirals, reasoned action, theory of planned behavior

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