Article 17 of 20 – “To what extent do interest group messages shape the public’s climate change policy preferences?”

Pivoting back to who tries to speed stuff up/slow it down. This –

Crawley, S., Coffé, H. & Chapman, R. To what extent do interest group messages shape the public’s climate change policy preferences?. Br Polit (2020).

was interesting and useful, if not my cup of tea. I find a lot of psychological experimental work not very compelling (and to be fair to the authors here, they are admirably clear about the (inevitable) limitations of their study.

They point out that “

… little scholarly attention has been paid to the extent to which the substantial effort by interest groups—campaigning for or against action on climate change—is able to shift the climate policy preferences of the public.

The current study aims to fill this gap, by investigating the extent to which arguments made by interest groups influence people’s views on the government’s appropriate role in the response to climate change.

(Crawley et al 2020: xx)

They point out there are differing views on how effective infowar (which is what they are talking about, though they don’t call it that) is.

On one side of the debate, some authors claim that most members of the public have ‘non-attitudes’ rather than coherent opinions, and are therefore ripe for influence by elites (Converse 2006). Zaller (1992), for instance, argues that citizens do not usually have fixed opinions on issues. When citizens are required to form a definitive opinion on a topic, they tend to search their memories for ‘considerations’ that may be relevant, usually giving preference to information that was received more recently.

On the other side of the debate, many authors argue that members of the public often do have sophisticated opinions on issues (Ansolabehere et al. 2008; Druckman 2001). Goren (2012), who is among the authors with the most confidence in the capability of the public, claims that even individuals with low levels of political awareness have broad ‘policy principles’ that guide the formation of their views.

(Crawley et al 2020: xx)

They us an online survey tool to find a whole bunch of people, expose them to different “pro” and “anti” arguments.

Based on the evidence presented above, it appears that arguments made by interest groups are able to change the specific climate policy preferences of the public, but not their broader concerns about the consequences of climate policy (specifically, their concerns about the possible economic consequences of government action, and about government action failing to avoid the worst effects of climate change). Previous research has suggested that arguments (in particular, emphasis frames) tend to have a narrow impact on people’s views (Hopkins and Mummolo 2017), which may explain why the broader attitudes about climate change policy were not affected, whereas more specific policy preferences were.

(Crawley et al 2020: xx)

Fine. But I guess my non-academic reservation is this. What are we going to DO about all this? How are we going to help citizens – via schools, social movements etc – learn how to assess an argument, make allowance for their own blindspots, emotions, everyone’s propaganda and then act in response to their assessments, in the long-term.

I know, very very “normative” (for values of “normative” aligned to “habitable planet”)

Some useful references here, as to the EIUG and the IEA (see Whyte).

Carter, N., and M. Childs. 2018. Friends of the Earth as a policy entrepreneur: ‘The Big Ask’ campaign for a UK Climate Change Act. Environmental Politics 27 (6): 994–1013.

Energy Intensive Users Group. 2016. Leaving the EU: Implications for UK climate policy. . Accessed 10 January 2019.

Kollman, K. 1998. Outside lobbying: Public opinion and interest group strategies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Painter, J., and N.T. Gavin. 2016. Climate skepticism in British Newspapers, 2007–2011. Environmental Communication 10 (4): 432–452.

Whyte, J. 2013. Quack policy: Abusing science in the cause of paternalism. Institute of Economic Affairs.

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