There is a sharp polarization between liberals and conservatives when it comes to the need for envirnental action in the US. A study from UC Berkeley and Stanford suggests the two groups respond positively to very different framings - moral arguments for liberals and purity and scancity for conservatives.
While interesting and probably sensible, it only addresses a small part of the problem. Groups tend to become very entrenched and resistent to new framings and, importantly, scientific fact. Changing the minds of conservatives involves over three decades of solid messaging and entrenchment. Plus there is a problem with all of the groups that the environment is seen as a minor problem in comparison to other issues - something that is mostly out of the daily lives of most of us. It seems to take large shocking events to make a point and there is a rapid return to the status quo for those not directly impacted by such events.
The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes
Matthew Feinberg1 and Robb Willer2
1Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford University, and 2Sociology Department, University of California, Berkeley
Americans’ attitudes about the environment are highly polarized, but it is unclear why this is the case. We conducted five studies to examine this issue. Studies 1a and 1b demonstrated that liberals, but not conservatives, view the environment in moral terms and that this tendency partially explains the relation between political ideology and environmental attitudes. Content analyses of newspaper op-eds (Study 2a) and public-service announcements (Study 2b) found that contemporary environmental discourse is based largely on moral concerns related to harm and care, which are more deeply held by liberals than by conservatives. However, we found that reframing proenvironmental rhetoric in terms of purity, a moral value resonating primarily among conservatives, largely eliminated the difference between liberals’ and conservatives’ environmental attitudes (Study 3). These results establish the importance of moralization as a cause of polarization on environmental attitudes and suggest that reframing environmental discourse in different moral terms can reduce the gap between liberals and conservatives in environmental concern.