Soda tax debates in Berkeley and San Francisco: An Analysis of Social Media, Campaign Materials, and News Coverage


Lori Dorfman


anti-tax strategy, Berkeley, beverage policies, food politics, grassroots organizing, media advocacy, pro-tax strategy, San Francisco, social media, soda tax


Berkeley Media Studies Group

Year Published:


Policy Summary

The authors analyzed news coverage (including social media) and campaign materials (from both pro/against) of the Berkeley and San Francisco soda tax ballot measures in 2014. The authors wanted to determine how all campaign messages were communicated to the public. They found that pro-tax campaigns posted four times as much on social media (than anti-tax campaigns), which dovetailed well with the authentic grassroots nature of the pro-tax proponents. Twitter posts were a reflection of the wider arguments posed by both sides. Pro-taxers often included comments on the bad behavior of the beverage industry, while anti-taxers mentioned loopholes and exemptions in the tax proposal. Anti-tax campaigns tailored their arguments to a specific local jurisdiction and tried to stir up fear (increases in cost of living), confusion, (exemptions), and redirection (claiming taxing soda would tax food). Pro-tax campaign materials included comments and support from a diverse group of community stakeholders, while anti-tax campaign materials relied on comments mainly from industry and a few individuals in the community (small business owners). This was the first soda tax campaign where newpaper article editorals and opinion pieces were in support of the tax. Obesity and diabetes were the main health consequences brought up by pro-taxers, but oral health problems were rarely mentioned.The top three Berkeley pro-tax arguments were: 1) soda industry behaves inappropriately, 2) tax will promote health, and 3) sugary drinks are harmful. The top 3 San Francisco pro-tax arguments were: 1) soda industry behaves inappropriately, 2) tax will raise money for health programs, and 3)sugary drinks are harmful. While each side in each location had specific campaign strategies, this research demonstrates the importance and influence of the media on the public’s support of health related policies.

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