IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Can citizen pressure influence politicians’ communication about climate change? Results from a field experiment


  • Seth Wynes

    (University of British Columbia
    Concordia University)

  • John Kotcher

    (George Mason University)

  • Simon D. Donner

    (University of British Columbia)


Urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions depend on governments implementing and enforcing rigorous climate policy. Individuals in democracies seeking to persuade government officials to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can take steps such as voting, protesting, and contacting officials directly, but it is unclear how effective each of these actions is in changing the behavior of elected officials. Here we take advantage of the public nature of social media to evaluate the actual efficacy of climate campaign emails using an original, real-world experiment where 335 Members of Canadian Parliament were asked by constituents to post a pro-climate message to their Twitter account. Only one Member of Parliament posted the exact text suggested by the campaign. After scraping and coding 18,776 tweets, we first find no evidence that a public health messaging frame is more effective than a standard environmental frame in eliciting pro-climate posts. Furthermore, we find only a marginally significant relationship between volume of constituent contact and increased pro-climate tweeting from Members of Parliament. Follow-up interviews with political staffers suggest that analog alternatives may be more effective than campaign emails in some cases. Interview findings also reveal that some offices receive low levels of constituent communication on climate change, indicating that increased pressure from constituents could still be consequential.

Suggested Citation

  • Seth Wynes & John Kotcher & Simon D. Donner, 2021. "Can citizen pressure influence politicians’ communication about climate change? Results from a field experiment," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 168(1), pages 1-20, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:168:y:2021:i:1:d:10.1007_s10584-021-03215-9
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-021-03215-9

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Abstract
    Download Restriction: Access to the full text of the articles in this series is restricted.

    File URL:
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert Brulle & Jason Carmichael & J. Jenkins, 2012. "Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 114(2), pages 169-188, September.
    2. Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander & Mildenberger, Matto & Stokes, Leah C., 2019. "Legislative Staff and Representation in Congress," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 113(1), pages 1-18, February.
    3. Zeileis, Achim & Kleiber, Christian & Jackman, Simon, 2008. "Regression Models for Count Data in R," Journal of Statistical Software, Foundation for Open Access Statistics, vol. 27(i08).
    4. Öhberg, Patrik & Naurin, Elin, 2016. "Party-constrained Policy Responsiveness: A Survey Experiment on Politicians’ Response to Citizen-initiated Contacts," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(4), pages 785-797, October.
    5. Rinscheid, Adrian & Pianta, Silvia & Weber, Elke U., 2021. "What shapes public support for climate change mitigation policies? The role of descriptive social norms and elite cues," Behavioural Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 5(4), pages 503-527, October.
    6. Erick Lachapelle & Christopher P. Borick & Barry Rabe, 2012. "Public Attitudes toward Climate Science and Climate Policy in Federal Systems: Canada and the United States Compared," Review of Policy Research, Policy Studies Organization, vol. 29(3), pages 334-357, May.
    7. Daniel M. Butler & David E. Broockman, 2011. "Do Politicians Racially Discriminate Against Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators," American Journal of Political Science, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 55(3), pages 463-477, July.
    8. Broockman, David E. & Skovron, Christopher, 2018. "Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion among Political Elites," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 112(3), pages 542-563, August.
    9. Teresa Myers & Matthew Nisbet & Edward Maibach & Anthony Leiserowitz, 2012. "A public health frame arouses hopeful emotions about climate change," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 113(3), pages 1105-1112, August.
    10. Joeri Rogelj & Michel den Elzen & Niklas Höhne & Taryn Fransen & Hanna Fekete & Harald Winkler & Roberto Schaeffer & Fu Sha & Keywan Riahi & Malte Meinshausen, 2016. "Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2 °C," Nature, Nature, vol. 534(7609), pages 631-639, June.
    11. Matto Mildenberger & Peter Howe & Erick Lachapelle & Leah Stokes & Jennifer Marlon & Timothy Gravelle, 2016. "The Distribution of Climate Change Public Opinion in Canada," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 11(8), pages 1-14, August.
    12. Richard J. McAlexander & Johannes Urpelainen, 2020. "Elections and Policy Responsiveness: Evidence from Environmental Voting in the U.S. Congress," Review of Policy Research, Policy Studies Organization, vol. 37(1), pages 39-63, January.
    13. Seth Wynes & Jiaying Zhao & Simon D. Donner, 2020. "How well do people understand the climate impact of individual actions?," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 162(3), pages 1521-1534, October.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Monika Pompeo & Nina Serdarevic, 2021. "Is information enough? The case of Republicans and climate change," Discussion Papers 2021-08, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
    2. Riffat Mahmood & Li Zhang & Guoqing Li & Munshi Khaledur Rahman, 2022. "Geo-based model of intrinsic resilience to climate change: an approach to nature-based solution," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 24(10), pages 11969-11990, October.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Joshua A. Basseches & Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo & Maxwell T. Boykoff & Trevor Culhane & Galen Hall & Noel Healy & David J. Hess & David Hsu & Rachel M. Krause & Harland Prechel & J. Timmons Roberts & J, 2022. "Climate policy conflict in the U.S. states: a critical review and way forward," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 170(3), pages 1-24, February.
    2. Inna Čábelková & Luboš Smutka & Wadim Strielkowski, 2022. "Public support for sustainable development and environmental policy: A case of the Czech Republic," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 30(1), pages 110-126, February.
    3. Thomas, Melanee & DeCillia, Brooks & Santos, John B. & Thorlakson, Lori, 2022. "Great expectations: Public opinion about energy transition," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 162(C).
    4. Nicholas Smith & Anthony Leiserowitz, 2014. "The Role of Emotion in Global Warming Policy Support and Opposition," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 34(5), pages 937-948, May.
    5. Boto-García, David & Bucciol, Alessandro, 2020. "Climate change: Personal responsibility and energy saving," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 169(C).
    6. Jason Gainous & Rodger A. Payne & Melissa K. Merry, 2021. "Do Source cues or frames matter? Convincing the public about the veracity of climate science," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 102(4), pages 1894-1906, July.
    7. Kitt, Shelby & Axsen, Jonn & Long, Zoe & Rhodes, Ekaterina, 2021. "The role of trust in citizen acceptance of climate policy: Comparing perceptions of government competence, integrity and value similarity," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 183(C).
    8. Mark Purdon, 2015. "Advancing Comparative Climate Change Politics: Theory and Method," Global Environmental Politics, MIT Press, vol. 15(3), pages 1-26, August.
    9. Caroline J. Tolbert & Christopher Witko & Cary Wolbers, 2019. "Public Support for Higher Taxes on the Wealthy: California’s Proposition 30," Politics and Governance, Cogitatio Press, vol. 7(2), pages 351-364.
    10. Sverker C. Jagers & Erick Lachapelle & Johan Martinsson & Simon Matti, 2021. "Bridging the ideological gap? How fairness perceptions mediate the effect of revenue recycling on public support for carbon taxes in the United States, Canada and Germany," Review of Policy Research, Policy Studies Organization, vol. 38(5), pages 529-554, September.
    11. Kachi, Aya & Bernauer, Thomas & Gampfer, Robert, 2015. "Climate policy in hard times: Are the pessimists right?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 227-241.
    12. Houle, David, 2019. "Un climat démocratique? Le rôle de l’opinion publique dans l’adoption de la tarification du carbone dans les provinces canadiennes," SocArXiv atkz8, Center for Open Science.
    13. Wang, Bingzheng & Lu, Xiaofei & Zhang, Cancan & Wang, Hongsheng, 2022. "Cascade and hybrid processes for co-generating solar-based fuels and electricity via combining spectral splitting technology and membrane reactor," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 196(C), pages 782-799.
    14. Gupta, Kuhika & Nowlin, Matthew C. & Ripberger, Joseph T. & Jenkins-Smith, Hank C. & Silva, Carol L., 2019. "Tracking the nuclear ‘mood’ in the United States: Introducing a long term measure of public opinion about nuclear energy using aggregate survey data," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 133(C).
    15. Poortinga, Wouter & Aoyagi, Midori & Pidgeon, Nick F., 2013. "Public perceptions of climate change and energy futures before and after the Fukushima accident: A comparison between Britain and Japan," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 1204-1211.
    16. Shelley Boulianne & Mireille Lalancette & David Ilkiw, 2020. "“School Strike 4 Climate”: Social Media and the International Youth Protest on Climate Change," Media and Communication, Cogitatio Press, vol. 8(2), pages 208-218.
    17. Sapkota, Krishna & Gemechu, Eskinder & Oni, Abayomi Olufemi & Ma, Linwei & Kumar, Amit, 2022. "Greenhouse gas emissions from Canadian oil sands supply chains to China," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 251(C).
    18. Michael J. Motta, 2021. "Diffusion and Typology: The Invention and Early Adoption of Medicinal Marijuana and Offshore Wind Policies," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 102(1), pages 567-584, January.
    19. Totterman, Stephen, 2021. "Vehicle-based recreation and compliance for three beaches in northern New South Wales," OSF Preprints ja8h6, Center for Open Science.
    20. Button, Patrick & Walker, Brigham, 2020. "Employment discrimination against Indigenous Peoples in the United States: Evidence from a field experiment," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(C).


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:168:y:2021:i:1:d:10.1007_s10584-021-03215-9. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Sonal Shukla or Springer Nature Abstracting and Indexing (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.