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Study of Pope’s Climate Message Featured by Nature Climate Change

A study of the Pope’s encyclical on climate change conducted by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center has been featured as a “research highlight” by the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study, published in May in the journal Cognition, examined the Pope’s attempt to leverage his credibility to influence beliefs about climate change with his 2015 encyclical “Laudato si’.” The study included an analysis of surveys of Americans taken before and after the release of the papal letter.

Under the headline “Papal credibility and beliefs,” Nature Climate Change explained the research: “Whether audiences perceive a communicator as credible is not based solely on perceived expertise, but also includes judgments of shared cultural beliefs and values. Accordingly, many hoped that the Pope’s encyclical advancing the message that addressing climate change is a moral issue would resonate with US conservatives, who share the church’s socially conservative values but tend to be more sceptical of climate change than liberals.”

Pope Francis in Rome. Credit: Lara Farhadi.
Pope Francis in Rome. Credit: Lara Farhadi.

Nature Climate Change noted that the study found “that awareness of the Pope’s encyclical increased beliefs about the seriousness of climate change and beliefs that climate change would have a greater effect on the poor, but only indirectly via increased perceptions of papal credibility. Moreover, this effect was moderated by political ideology, such that more conservative individuals were less likely to view the Pope as more credible, and were consequently less likely to show changes in beliefs. These results suggest that prominent figures cannot simply leverage their authority to influence public opinion on heavily politicized issues.”

The research was led by former APPC postdoctoral fellow Asheley Landrum, now an assistant professor at Texas Tech University. Her co-authors were former APPC postdoctoral fellows Robert B. Lull, an assistant professor at California State University, Fresno; Heather Akin, now an assistant professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism; Ariel Hasell, a research fellow and lecturer at the University of Michigan; and APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson.

To read more about the study, click here.