Testing Bi-Partisan Climate Change Messaging Using Prospect Theory
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CitationRobinson, Sophie. 2020. Testing Bi-Partisan Climate Change Messaging Using Prospect Theory. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractWhen we read a newspaper article or hear a story about climate change on the news, that message is likely crafted by the news team without consulting scientific research about how to deliver the story. As we have entered the age of consequences in a climate change world, more and more news articles are talking about what is going on. How that message is delivered will have a dramatic impact on how it is received. Message experiments provide evidence that can advance climate change communication. Often, results from message experiments are counter-intuitive, but are crucial for helping the story land in a helpful way to the intended audience.
Prospect theory describes a well-documented phenomenon by which people tend to psychologically weigh losses twice more than gains (Kahneman & Tversky, 1983; 1991). There has been some preliminary research applying prospect theory to climate change, but not in the context of political partisanship in the United States (Spence & Pidgeon, 2010). To assess changes in opinions about climate among both liberals and conservatives based on exposure to messages, 699 participants in this study completed an online survey using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk).
Respondents answered questions about various social issues including climate change and how likely they would be to support a candidate taking a particular stance on those issues on a scale of 1 (much more likely to vote for them) to 5 (much less likely to vote for them). The results of this research show that there is no significant difference between gain and loss frames in influencing how people would vote for a political candidate who supports renewable energy. Although the gain frame might be more effective, the results were not statistically significant. However, both the gain frame and the loss frame scores were significantly higher than the control frame scores. Additionally, both Independents and Democrats had significantly higher scores than Republicans. There were two interesting demographic findings. The 55-64 year old age group had significantly lower scores than their younger peers, and rural living participants scored significantly lower than suburban or urban living participants.
This research shows that Prospect Theory framing may not be as important of a factor as the values relayed in the message. Since the control message was significantly lower than the gain and loss frames, which both used conservative values in the message, it appears that messages about conservative topics such as the economy may be more impactful than a gain versus loss frame. Future studies should focus on how to tease apart political value and content framing to see which frames are most significant for climate change policy support.
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