New Research Helps Explain the Partisan Divide Over Climate Change

100214FoxNews_OrigAn abundance of research indicates that American opinion on climate change falls squarely across party lines. But what explains this partisan divide? New research reveals that part of the issue might lie in Americans’ choices about media outlets. Specifically, the study found that watching and listening to conservative media outlets, like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, is associated with the belief that climate change is not happening, as well a lack of support for policy. Using nonconservative media, like NPR, CNN, and MSNBC, on the other hand, is associated with the belief that climate change is happening and support for policy.
Even more strikingly, the study found that people’s beliefs about climate change actively drive the decisions they make about which media sources to use, which creates a self-reinforcing cycle. People who think climate change is happening are more likely to seek out media sources that confirm climate change is real, whereas people who think climate change is not happening are more likely to seek out media outlets that confirm this belief. These results present a foreboding challenge to climate communicators. Communicators may be able to help break through this partisan roadblock, however, by finding new messengers about climate change–ones outside of traditional media outlets–who their audience members know and trust. Communicators may also want to consider promoting climate solutions that align with conservative ideals about limited government.

Media “Echo Chambers” and Climate Change

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication Staff
We are pleased to announce the recent publication of a new peer-reviewed article: Feldman, L., Myers, T., Hmielowski, J., & Leiserowitz, A. (2014). The mutual reinforcement of media selectivity and effects: Testing the reinforcing spirals framework in the context of global warming. Journal of Communication. DOI:10.1111/jcom.12108
Given the diverse sources of news now available in the U.S., partisans can easily choose news sources that align with their political attitudes. Does the rise of partisan news—on cable, talk radio, and the Internet—allow Americans to insulate themselves in “echo chambers” where they are exposed only to content consistent with their opinions, while shielded from dissenting views? If so, this may reinforce partisans’ existing attitudes, making it increasingly difficult for policymakers and the public to achieve mutual understanding and compromise on the most pressing issues of the day, including climate change.
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Image credit: Media Matters/Fox News

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