Case Study: Climate Messaging
Summary: Language from a news article that linked recent storms to climate change was clearly effective at increasing respondents’ sense of urgency around climate change.
Research outcomes and key findings:
Grow Progress’s Rapid Message Testing tool allowed us to test climate-related messaging inexpensively and quickly in the wake of Hurricane Fiona.
Clear, actionable results
Language from a news article that linked recent storms to climate change was clearly effective at increasing respondents’ sense of urgency around climate change. The two other messages we tested had some effects among subgroups of the population, but weren’t effective population-wide.
This test turned around results within one day.
This test, with doubled sample size for more precision, evaluating three distinct messages, cost 8 credits to run — about $1,600 for most Grow Progress clients.
How do various messages about the climate affect public opinion?
We tested messages from the League of Conservation Voters, the Conservative Climate Caucus, and language from a news article, and observed their effects on people’s perception of the urgency of the climate crisis and their belief that the government should do more to reduce the effects of climate change.
Targeting a national audience, we tested three messages, each with an entirely distinct approach to talking about the environment. One message focused on good news about the environment, another featured statements from the Conservative Climate Caucus, and a third linked Hurricane Fiona and floods in Alaska to the climate crisis.
None of these was specifically designed to change public support for climate action as part of any particular campaign, but each was a message that people might encounter in the world that could have an effect on their attitudes.
Again, none of these messages was designed to shift these specific opinions, as they’re part of their own projects and narratives. But we saw that “Storm,” the message connecting recent storms to climate change, caused an 11-point increase in agreement that climate change is one of the most urgent issues facing the world. LCV’s “Good News” had no overall effect, and the message about the formation of the Conservative Climate Caucus may have decreased agreement.
Under the surface, we saw that “Storm” was effective with many demographic groups, including both people who voted for Biden and those who voted for Trump. “Good News” may have increased agreement among people who voted for Biden in 2020. And the Conservative Climate Caucus may have actually helped us with Republicans (we saw an estimated 11-point effect) while driving Democrats and other groups in the wrong direction.
When it comes to our other success question, we saw similar results. “Storm” caused a 7-point increase in agreement that the federal government should do more to reduce the effects of climate change, while the other two messages had no measurable effect.
There are so many approaches, tones, and messengers available for climate messaging, and there may be conditions under which each is successful at changing attitudes or beliefs. Further testing could explore whether linking weather events to climate change is still effective even when weather events are not in the news, or it could vary what messenger conveys messages about weather events and climate.
Testing could also explore what kind of climate messaging affects public attitudes about political candidates, either in a primary election or general election context.