Joanna Huxster, Bucknell University – Partisan News’ Impact on Climate Change Perception

Is the partisan divide on climate change due to some portions of the media?

Joanna Huxster, postdoctoral research fellow at Bucknell University, looks into whether there is an alternative view of the situation.

Joanna earned her Ph.D. in Marine Studies with concentrations in marine policy and climate change communication at the University of Delaware. Her research interests are public understanding of climate change and science, climate change communication, and public opinion on ideologically polarized science. She currently works with the Production of Public Understanding of Science project at Bucknell. The research presented here was completed during her time as a Visiting Research Professor at Drexel University working with Dr. Robert Brulle and Dr. Jason Carmichael (McGill University). This work was published in the journal Climatic Change. In the fall of 2017, Joanna will begin as an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Eckerd College.

Partisan News’ Impact on Climate Change Perception

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The last decade has seen a growing divide in public opinion about climate change along partisan lines, despite a clear scientific consensus about the human causes.

One common hypothesis about this polarization is that it comes from systematic efforts to spread doubt about the reality of climate change through conservative media. To test this idea, we analyzed the factors that influence national-level public concern about climate change, focusing on the effects of partisan media, the release of major scientific reports, and incidents of extreme weather.

Our results support the idea of an “echo chamber effect,” which describes the tendency of partisan media to match its coverage of a topic to the pre-existing views of its primary audience, further strengthening the audience’s views. We found that Republican concern decreased when climate change was covered on conservative media outlets, while liberal news coverage increased Democratic concern.

We also found some support for the “boomerang effect”, which refers to the tendency of people to further intensify their political beliefs when exposed to opposing views. In our study, we found that when liberal media covered climate change, Republicans appeared to reject the message so much that their national-level concern over climate change decreased.

Releases of major scientific reports only influenced concern among Democrats, and extreme weather did not increase national-level concern for members of either party. Interestingly, non-partisan media was shown to increase climate change concern in Republicans.

Our results help to illustrate the substantial effects that partisan media have on public climate change concern, while showing the surprising role that “moderate” media could play in increasing public concern for this pressing issue.

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