Evidence-Based Strategies to Increase General Public and State Legislator Support for Policies to Fund and Enhance Early Childhood Development

Project Summary

There is strong evidence that investments in early childhood development can shape health and well-being in later stages of life. The project team evaluated the effect of a messaging intervention on Making Health A Shared Value Drivers: mindsets, expectations, and civic engagement related to early childhood development. Specifically, they developed and tested the effects of values-based policy messages to promote funding and support for early childhood education.

Research Question(s)

  • Do narratives work best as a stand-alone message strategy or in combination with didactic messages that also offer arguments that reinforce key concepts of the narrative?
  • Do simple arguments, narrative messages, and their combination promote access to affordable, accessible, high-quality child care for all?


  • Offer insights into building the mindsets and expectations needed to address the societal conditions and contexts that produce – or inhibit – healthy childhood development for all.
  • Inform the crafting of messaging and other materials to educate the public and policymakers about the impacts and importance of social policies, such as childcare, by testing which types of messaging resonate with different audiences.


Findings suggest that both simple advocacy messages and short stories describing structural barriers and policy solutions to address these barriers could be useful in broader efforts to promote high-value policies with potential to improve population health among the general public.

However, when it comes to increasing support for such policies amongst legislators, the research team found that messages could backfire and inadvertently lead to a diminished support.

Advocacy messages should be tested amongst a broader set of groups, as even those that perform well on average can inadvertently backfire and reduce support amongst some groups.




Primary Outcome: Public support for early childhood intervention policies

  • Degree to which respondents support specific targeted and non-targeted early childhood interventions and policies

Primary Outcome: Intention to advocate for early childhood intervention policies

  • Reported likelihood of engaging in a variety of policy-relevant advocacy and information-seeking behaviors.

Secondary Outcome: Increased public perceptions that these policies are effective

  • Level of agreement with potential benefits and costs of early childhood education policies

Secondary Outcome: Increased knowledge of burden by key social groups

  • Beliefs about extent to which social groups suffer from lack of early childhood resources (e.g., low vs. high income, racial/ethnic groups, rural vs. urban)

Secondary Outcome: Increased empathy toward groups without access to resources

  • Degree to which audience empathizes with people/families who suffer from lack of early childhood resources




The researchers conducted two randomized, controlled trials—one among the general public and one among state legislators. In both studies, participants were randomized into one of six study arms, each of which received different approaches and order of messaging.

Teacher and pre-schoolers with arts & crafts
Grantee and Partner organizations

Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Department of Communication
Portland State University
OHSU Center for Developmental Health and the OHSU Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness
University of Minnesota
Wesleyan University
Berkeley Media Studies Group

Grant status
Principal investigators
Jeff Niederdeppe, PhD
Liana Winett, DrPH, MPH, MCHES
Start date
Award amount
18 months

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