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Shifting Republican views on climate change through targeted advertising

Abstract

It is essential to increase public understanding of the existence, causes and harms of climate change. In the United States, Republicans are one important audience, as the bipartisan support needed for ambitious and durable climate policy is currently lacking. An important limitation of most climate change message testing is that it is usually based on controlled experiments, which may or may not be equally effective in the real world. Here we report the effects of a one-month advertising campaign field experiment (N = 1,600) that deployed videos about the reality and risks of climate change to people in two competitive congressional districts (Missouri-02 and Georgia-07). The videos were designed to appeal to Republicans and were targeted to this audience via online advertisements. The study finds that, within the targeted congressional districts, the campaign increased Republicans’ understanding of the existence, causes and harms of climate change by several percentage points.

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Fig. 1: Average treatment effects on global warming beliefs, importance, worry and risk perceptions.
Fig. 2: Descriptive differences between experimental groups on each dependent measure.
Fig. 3: Average treatment effects on the global warming beliefs and risk perceptions index, by party.
Fig. 4: Descriptive differences between experimental groups on each dependent measure, by party.

Data availability

All data used in this article are available on our OSF project page at https://osf.io/6emgj/.

Code availability

All code used to analyse data and create figures for this article is available on our OSF project page at https://osf.io/6emgj/.

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Acknowledgements

We thank G. Briscoe, B. Morton and J. Etter-Krause from Centro for running and managing the advertisements throughout the campaign period; D. Burrell and his team from Wick for managing sampling and survey data collection; M. Ballew for input during the early stages of development of the experimental materials; J. Marshall for advice on the campaign; and our funders: Fenton Communications (A.L.), the Heising-Simons Foundation (A.L.), and the MacArthur Foundation (A.L.).

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All authors consulted with the partner organizations throughout the development of the study. M.H.G. collected all necessary documents and data from corresponding partner organizations, and conducted the statistical analyses. M.H.G. and A.G. wrote the first draft of the manuscript. M.H.G., A.G., S.A.R. and A.L. interpreted the results and revised the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthew H. Goldberg.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Phillip Ehret, Małgorzata Kossowska and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Pre- versus post-campaign comparisons within treatment and control group zip codes.

A threat to internal validity is that pro-climate opinion could have already been increasing regardless of the campaign. This could create apparent treatment effects that were instead driven by asymmetric changes in public opinion in the direction of the intended treatment. To rule out this explanation, we tested for differences on all dependent variables on independent samples within treatment and control zip codes. This figure shows that there were only significant positive changes in beliefs, worry, and risk perceptions among people in treatment zip codes (left panel), and virtually no changes among people in control zip codes (right panel). Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Treatment effects in each congressional district.

To examine whether the overall treatment effects varied depending on geographic location, we examined treatment effects on the beliefs and risk perceptions index separately for each of the two congressional districts. Results show that the overall treatment effect was very similar across the two districts. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. Gray points represent predicted individual respondent scores on the dependent measure. A small horizontal jitter was applied to aid visibility of predicted individual points. MO-02 = Missouri congressional district 02; GA-07 = Georgia congressional district 07.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary analyses and discussion, Tables 1, 2.

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Goldberg, M.H., Gustafson, A., Rosenthal, S.A. et al. Shifting Republican views on climate change through targeted advertising. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 573–577 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01070-1

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