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Media Use, Race, and the Environment: The Converging of Environmental Attitudes Based on Self-Reported News Use

In the U.S., people have become polarized around a number of issues based on a variety of potential dividing lines including where they live, their age, their political beliefs, and their race/ethnicity.

One pressing issue where different ideological groups believe in different things is climate change. From a political perspective, liberals tend to believe climate change is happening, while conservatives tend to be more skeptical. Studies have also looked at the gaps in beliefs regarding environmental issues between different races/ethnicities and have shown that racial/ethnic minorities tend to be more concerned about environmental issues compared to their White counterparts.

Important questions arise regarding why these gaps exist and what factors could decrease them. For example, what role does the ideological slant of different news media play in leading racial/ethnic groups to hold different orientations regarding climate change? Does the higher consumption of certain news media decrease belief gaps between racial/ethnic groups? Moreover, what factors are influential in inspiring actual pro-environmental behavioral changes and to what extent are they shaped by news media consumption?

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Public Relations Assistant Professor Jay Hmielowski and Troy Elias from the University of Oregon recently completed a study to address some of these questions. First, their study replicated previous results showing that consumption of liberal and non-partisan news lead people to report intentions to address the issue of climate change. By contrast, exposure to conservative news media was associated with people being less willing to change their behaviors to address the issue of climate change.

Second, their study examined gaps in climate change beliefs between racial/ethnic groups and the extent to which conservative and non-conservative news media consumption narrowed these gaps. In their study, they found that Asian Americans and Hispanics were more concerned about issues tied to climate change compared to their Black and White counterparts. They found that use of conservative media was associated with becoming less concerned about climate change among Hispanics, which resulted in them converging to a similar point in terms of their beliefs about climate change as Whites. Conversely, use of non-partisan and liberal media was associated with being more concerned with the issue of climate change among Whites, which resulted in them holding similar views as Asians and Hispanics.

The results of these findings show that the source of information regarding climate change can lead people to become more (or less) willing to take steps in their day-to-day lives to address the issue of climate change. Moreover, these findings show that the potential effects of media on environmental beliefs may not be uniform across racial and ethnic groups.

The original article, “Media Use, Race, and the Environment: The Converging of Environmental Attitudes Based on Self-Reported News Use,” was originally published in Environmental Values.

Authors: Troy Elias, Jay Hmielowski

This summary was written by Jay Hmielowski.

Posted: October 2, 2020
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