“Hearts or Minds? Identifying Persuasive Messages on Climate Change” | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin
Article, Refereed Journal

“Hearts or Minds? Identifying Persuasive Messages on Climate Change”

Research and Politics (2015): 1-9.

div class="section abstract" id="abstract-1"
p id="p-2"This article sheds light on what kinds of appeals persuade the US public on climate change. Using an experimental design, we assign a diverse sample of 330 participants to one of four conditions: an economic self-interest appeal, a moral appeal, a mixed appeal combining self-interest and morality and a control condition with no persuasive appeal.sup1/sup Participants were then asked a series of questions about their willingness to support advocacy efforts, including such actions as writing a letter to Congress, signing a petition and joining an organization. We hypothesized that for issues like climate change where it is expensive to address the problem, arguments based on self-interest are more likely to be persuasive than moral appeals. Our experiment yielded some surprising results. Knowledge was an important moderator of peoplersquo;s attitudes on climate change in response to the persuasive messages. We found that among respondents who were more knowledgeable about climate change that the economic frame was most the persuasive in terms of a subjectrsquo;s willingness to take actions to support the cause. However, among low knowledge respondents, the control condition without messaging yielded the most concern./p
/div

p id="p-3"For almost two decades, legislation in the United States to address climate change has been stuck. While institutional barriers have made it difficult for the United States to ratify international climate agreements and pass domestic legislation, climate advocates also view weak public support as a problem. To that end, activists have sought to re-frame the issue to be more appealing to the American electorate who might in turn push legislators to take heed./p

p id="p-4"This article sheds light on what kinds of appeals persuade the public to take action on climate change. Using an experimental design, we assign a diverse sample of 330 participants to one of four conditions: an economic self-interest appeal, a moral appeal, a mixed appeal combining self-interest and morality and a control condition with no persuasive appeal. Participants were then asked questions about their willingness to support advocacy efforts, including writing a letter to Congress, signing a petition and joining an organization. We hypothesized that for issues like climate change, where it is expensive to address the problem, arguments based on self-interest are more likely to be persuasive than moral appeals./p

p id="p-5"Our experiment yielded some surprising results: knowledge about climate change affected whether people responded to persuasive messages on climate change. Among respondents that were more knowledgeable about climate change, the self-interest frame, which we also call the economic or consequentialist appeal, was the most persuasive in terms of a subjectrsquo;s willingness to take actions to support the cause. However, among low knowledge respondents, the control condition that lacked a persuasive message had the most concerned participants./p

p id="p-6"This paper unfolds in four sections. The first section assesses the literature on framing and messaging. The second section develops an argument for frame success. The third section sketches the experimental design. The fourth section discusses our results./p

Research Topic: 
Climate Change
Transnational Movements