The climate crisis: are climate change marches effective in gaining public support?

An image to illustrate climate change marches, which the new study suggests are effective at improving public opinion on climate change action
Oslo, Norway - September 21, 2014: A sign reads, "There Is No Planet B", as parents carry children among thousands marching through central Oslo, Norway, to support action on global climate change, September 21, 2014. According to organizers of "The People's Climate March", the Oslo demonstration was one of 2,808 solidarity events in 166 countries, which they claim was "the largest climate march in history". © iStock/rrodrickbeiler

Are climate change marches effective in gaining public support for action on the climate crisis?

Climate change marches can have a positive effect on public support for the cause and encouraging climate action, new research from Penn State suggests.

Are activists seen as ‘outside’  the norm?

Swim added: “Activists are often seen negatively – that they’re arrogant or eccentric or otherwise outside of the norm. There’s a fine line between marchers and other activists expressing themselves and raising awareness of their cause, while also not confirming negative stereotypes. So, one of our questions was whether marches increase or decrease people’s negative impressions of marchers.”

The study assessed public impressions of people who participated in marches after the March for Science and the People’s Climate March in the spring of 2017 in the United States. They recruited 587 bystanders who did not participate in the march, but observed it through the media.

The surveys asked:

• How much the survey participants knew about the marches;
• What their impressions of the people who participated in the marches was; and
• Whether they believed people could work together to reduce climate change, alongside other measures.

Public opinion on climate change marches

Janet Swim, professor of psychology at Penn State, commented: “Marches serve two functions: to encourage people to join a movement and to enact change. This study is consistent with the idea that people who participate in marches can gain public support, convince people that change can occur, and also normalize the participants themselves.”

Engagement in climate change action

Swim explained: “There are several measures that predict people engaging and taking action in the future. One of those is collective efficacy – the belief that people can work together to enact change. People don’t want to do something if it’s not going to have an effect. We were interested in whether marches increased this sense of efficacy, that once you see other people do something, you might think yes, it’s possible.”

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