Over 30 years, partisan voices split climate change news

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Over roughly the last three decades, partisan voices associated with increasingly different messages have dominated news coverage about climate change, researchers report.

The political divide around climate change has led to greater coverage of the views of politicians, which has likely contributed to polarizing public opinion, the researchers say.

“This kind of information about trends in mainstream news coverage helps us to understand why the American public has become polarized around the issue of climate change—with some believing in it while others do not—while scientists have become increasingly certain that climate change is real and caused by human activity,” says lead author Sedona Chinn, a doctoral student in communication and media at the University of Michigan.

Chinn and colleagues analyzed climate change articles from 11 newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune, between 1985 and 2017. They identified about 62,000 climate change articles using key terms, such as “global warming” and “greenhouse gas.”

To capture politicization, the researchers looked at how often those articles mentioned Republicans, Democrats, and scientists. This allowed for a comparison over time between different environmental issues.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were more mentions of scientists than politicians in climate change coverage, but this trend changed in the 2000s as articles more often cited politicians.

When it came to polarization, the researchers looked at how the words surrounding mentions of partisan actors in climate change articles changed over time. This revealed that the language associated with mentions of Republicans and Democrats has become more distinct over time. This was important because it offered evidence that partisans increasingly talk about climate change in different ways.

The study appears in the journal Science Communication.

Source: University of Michigan