How do climate change protests influence public perceptions? A comparative survey experiment in Germany and the US

About this Session


Fri. 12.04.'24 11:50



Abstract :

The climate movement has gained much visibility in its fight for climate justice and more ambitious climate policies in Western Europe and the US. Beyond the increased attention however, the socio-political consequences of the manifold activities of the climate movement are far from clear. While some research suggests that protest actions undermine popular support for social movements and their demands, other studies indicate that climate protest can actually increase societal support for both the climate movement and its cause. Evaluations might also depend on the socio-economic position of respondents and the economic effects, which climate policies demanded by protest groups might have upon their status. Drawing from theoretical lenses rooted in social movement studies and social psychology, we conceptualize social movement impacts as being contingent on the interplay of movements’ tactics and demands, both of which vary on a continuum from moderate to radical, while also taking the socio-economic position of observers into account. To empirically gauge the manifold and potentially countervailing impacts of climate protests on citizens’ perceptions, and to account for variation across countries, we conducted a pre-registered multifactorial randomized survey experiment that randomly varied combinations of (1) protest tactics, (2) movement demands, (3) locations and (4) targets of protest (i.e., governments, business actors, or the public). The surveys were fielded in Germany and the US during summer 2023 (each n = 3,000). The results show that more radical tactics and demands are associated with decreasing support for the protest groups and their political demands, with only minor differences between the US and Germany. People with higher socio-economic standing are generally more supportive of climate policies and protest groups than people with lower socio-economic standing. Yet, more radical demands diminish support among people of high status more strongly, compared to the other groups. Our study suggests that the actual impacts of climate movements may be at odds with their intended effects, depending on the tactics used and the demands voiced, as well as the socio-economic position of citizens.