News Attention and Public Concern with Climate Change
Over at the NY Times’ Dot Earth blog, Andrew Revkin discusses the analysis of climate change coverage trends that I posted about earlier this week. In Revkin’s post, Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle is quoted raising an important observation about the the downturn in news attention to climate change since 2007 and the correlated downward shift in public belief and concern since 2007. Here’s what I posted in the comment section at Dot Earth as follow-up:
I strongly concur with Robert Brulle’s analysis of the linkage between news salience and public opinion. There is a strong body of research in the area of “memory based” opinion-formation which suggests that as news attention to an issue declines–considerations relative to that issue such as risks, urgency, actions–become far less readily available in short term memory, influencing the opinions expressed when individuals are called up by pollsters and asked to quickly assess the perceived reality, urgency, and need for action on an issue such as climate change. This absence of readily, top-of-mind information about climate change would also mean that individuals are more likely to be influenced by personally experienced events such as the performance of the economy or the weather in reaching judgments–or by just the small bit of information that they might have picked up via the limited sound bites about climate change found on TV or the passing, colloquial references encountered via personal conversations.
So while there have been many extraordinary claims made that the the downturn in public belief and concern with climate change is attributed to the work of the “denier” movement, far more parsimonious, theoretically grounded, and more likely explanations exist for this downturn.