Most climate communication only reaches partisans
There’s a kind of folk myth out there that the profusion of media sources on the internet means that everyone is seeking out only sources that reinforce their preexisting beliefs — that people are self-sorting into ideological “cocoons.”
To summarize, most individuals do not refuse to hear the other side. In fact, most people consume predominately non-partisan local TV newscasts, while tuning out news from partisan sources altogether. Of those who do turn to partisan sources, most Republicans and Democrats have virtually indistinguishable news diets. Contrary to recent claims, there is little evidence that the electorate is self-sorting into “ideologically like-minded information cocoons” at the level being described by scholars and political commentators.
These findings are interesting in their own right, but they also prompt a thought on the endless debate over climate communication. What seems most germane to me is not the somewhat surprising fact that partisans on both sides consume similar news media, but the familiar, predictable fact that “a majority of viewers consume little or no news,” and those who do mostly consume network nightly news. Most people do not watch cable news, read political blogs, or peruse white papers.
But that’s where climate change most often gets discussed. So here’s a corollary: If you are explicitly discussing climate change in the media, you are most likely communicating in a venue frequented primarily by partisans who have already made up their minds about climate change. Your audience probably contains an abnormally high percentage of people who have strong opinions about climate communication.
An immense amount of time is spent analyzing the way people communicate about climate in these venues. I myself have spent a great many hours analyzing and arguing about it. But insofar as we are concerned about public opinion on climate, the action, it would seem, is elsewhere.