The Effects of Hostile Media Perceptions on Climate Change Activism

by Pedro Ureña

By conducting a nationally representative study using survey data, five professors (Feldman et al, 2015) set out to examine the effects, both direct and indirect, of hostile media perceptions on activism pertaining to mitigating climate change. They found that external political efficacy, or the belief and trust that one’s government is both willing and capable of responding to their demands, is negatively related to hostile media perceptions. Put simply, when people think that their views are unfairly targeted in the media they grow dubious of the media and, consequently, the government and its democracy.

Due to the democratic nature of America’s society and government, hostile media perceptions—in other words, the common idea that “individuals who feel strongly about an issue…view media coverage…as biased against their position”–-directly affect political engagement and participation. Recent studies have found evidence pointing in both directions. Specifically, contemporary research shows that hostile media perceptions have the ability to both “promote” and “detract” from political participation. The relationship between hostile media perceptions and climate change activism is no different; they are directly associated, albeit quite nuanced.

Despite found to be closely correlated, the relationship between hostile media perceptions and climate change activism is largely affected by one’s political ideology. Intuitively, this idea stems from the differences between liberals and conservatives in their position on global warming and its effects on our planet. On the whole, Democrats and liberals are likely to believe in global warming; Republicans and conservatives, however, are likely to either dismiss global warming as untrue or simply unimportant when compared to other major political issues.

There is a positive correlation between hostile media perceptions and climate change activism among liberals, but a negative one among conservatives. This is because the percentage of the population that is genuinely concerned about the negative effects of climate change on our planet is composed mostly of liberals. Therefore, it makes sense that when presented with hostile media perceptions, liberals are pushed to become more politically engaged and speak out on what they believe is a salient issue. Conversely, the vast majority of conservatives either do not believe in climate change or disagree with liberals on the magnitude of its negative effects. Due to this skeptical and contemptuous view toward climate change, hostile media perceptions can serve to anger and annoy conservatives, but are highly unlikely to increase any form of activism.


Feldman, Lauren. Hart, Sol P., Leiserowitz, Anthony, Maibach, Edward, Roser-Renouf, Connie. 2015. Do Hostile Media Perceptions Lead to Action? The Role of Hostile Media Perceptions, Political Efficacy, and Ideology in Predicting Climate Change Activism. Sage. 1-26.



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