Do women respond to messages about workplace regulation?

The problem 

The so-called “Healthy Families Act” (HFA) would mandate paid sick leave for businesses with more than 14 employees. It is yet another attempt — along with the Lilly Ledbetter Act, minimum wage increases, and the “Paycheck Fairness Act” — for Progressives to expand the federal government’s regulatory oversight of the workplace.

Although these regulations often mandate benefits that most workers already enjoy, they impose serious burdens on other business and workers that lead to a reduction in jobs and hours and ultimately hurt workers and the economy overall.

These negative consequences are difficult for many people to see or understand, however. And because the regulations sound as if they will help Americans, the laws typically enjoy very high levels of support in public opinion polls.

But what happens when citizens are informed of the negative consequences of regulations such as the HFA? Can we persuade women that these government mandates are not, in fact, a good way to help Americans? What’s the best way to communicate the downsides of proposed regulatory policies like the so-called “Healthy Families Act” (HFA)? 

The Independent Women’s Forum commissioned Evolving Strategies to conduct a randomized-controlled experiment testing the effectiveness of six different messages explaining why the HFA is bad for employees, businesses and the country.

(See full report here, and the explore the research with a data app here.)

Overview of the methodology

First, we drew a sample of over 2,000 women from an opt-in, online panel that approximates the general U.S. population of adult women on major demographic characteristics and then randomly assigned each respondent to one of the treatment conditions (where they hear an anti-HFA message) or the Control condition (where they don’t hear any message).

Respondents answered a series of demographic and other control questions, and then those in the treatment groups received one, and only one, of the messages. The respondents were not asked to evaluate the message. 

All respondents then answered the same policy support and other “outcome” questions.

We conducted statistical analyses to compare policy support in the control group (heard no message) to answers in the treatment groups (heard one message). The difference between the average support levels in the treatment compared with the control group is due to the impact of the messages, as everything else about the two groups is otherwise the same.

Using this randomized-controlled experiment — the same design used for pharmaceutical research trials — allows us to identify which messages were the most effective at shifting opinion against additional regulation of the workplace.

Overview of the results

Persuasion on policy works. Whether liberal, conservative or moderate, we see substantial movement on the margin of support vs. opposition to the HFA when citizens hear a message explaining the problems with the regulations. But there are nuances, as always.

Three messages stand out — the Hurts the Poor, Negative Emotional, and Flexibility messages turn a huge margin of support for the HFA into net opposition to the HFA.

The Obamacare message, not surprisingly, moves conservative women but barely budges liberal women. Interestingly, we see no backlash.

The anti-regulation arguments against the HFA drag down support for related business regulations, such as increasing the minimum wage, but it mostly affects conservativesliberals don’t generalize anti-regulatory arguments to other policy areas.

Bottom line: Anti-regulatory messaging works, but you need to be specific about the policy and the consequences.

Evolving Strategies

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