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The United States confronts Ebola: suasion, executive action and fragmentation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 June 2016

Scott L. Greer*
Department of Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI, USA European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, Brussels, Belgium
Phillip M. Singer
Department of Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
*Correspondence to: Scott L. Greer, Department of Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan School of Public Health, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029, USA. Email:


The United States’ experience with the Ebola virus in 2014 provides a window into US public health politics. First, the United States provided a case study in the role of suasion and executive action in the management of public health in a fragmented multi-level system. The variable capacity of different parts of the United States to respond to Ebola on the level of hospitals or state governments, and their different approaches, show the limitations of federal influence, the importance of knowledge and executive energy, and the diversity of both powerful actors and sources of power. Second, the politics of Ebola in the United States is a case study in the politics of partisan blame attribution. The outbreak struck in the run-up to an election that was likely to be good for the Republican party, and the election dominated interest in and opinions of Ebola in both the media and public opinion. Democratic voters and media downplayed Ebola while Republican voters and media focused on the outbreak. The media was a key conduit for this strategic politicization, as shown in the quantity, timing and framing of news about Ebola. Neither fragmentation nor partisanship appears to be going away, so understanding the politics of public health crises will remain important.

© Cambridge University Press 2016 

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