Dominating Discourse: An Evaluation of the Rhetoric and Public Relations Effectiveness of the ObamaCare Campaign Versus the Anti-ObamaCare Campaign

Open Access
Dungan, Fallon Anne
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Honors Advisor
  • Marcy Lynne North, Faculty Reader
  • ObamaCare
  • Healthcare
  • public relations
  • rhetoric
  • health care
Public relations is crucial to the success of a business, as it is a function by which organizations can both disseminate essential information and monitor public opinion, while establishing relationships and dialogue among key audiences and stakeholders. As a legislation that marked an unprecedented era in national health care policy and administration, the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), established in 2010, and the corresponding website were received extremely poorly in national media and opinion, resulting in a largely negative, and potentially inaccurate reputation. This can be partially attributed to the public relations campaign for the Affordable Care Act, which has been overwhelmingly deemed a massive failure, and the scrutiny by the opposing “Anti- ObamaCare” campaign that led to further opposition in the media and among the general American public. Nonetheless, millions of Americans have purchased health care under the legislation. To understand how the campaign was considered a failure despite the high enrollment statistics, as well as the mechanisms of dominant discourse that resulted from the Anti-ObamaCare campaigns and the subsequent effects on public relations use in government, it is necessary to first outline the facets of a public relations campaign based on the theoretical and methodological approaches used in the industry by professionals and practitioners, with an emphasis on the use of rhetoric and language in creating and executing public relations messages, and in the formation of a dominant discourse. To measure the success or failure of public relations efforts, this thesis will include a quantitative analysis on the number of citizens who visited and signed up for health care under the ACA, as well as a qualitative examination of media and public perception through a brief exploration of the messages disseminated about the ACA, considering form and tone of media coverage regarding the campaign and legislation. This will be used in turn to determine what the dominant discourse surrounding the legislation is, and how it has been shaped over time. Lastly, the thesis explores how this event has changed the rhetoric within, and about government public relations efforts, and will predict possible directions in which public relations tactics for government may steer in the future.