Meet the Researcher - Olivia Anderson

Breakout Room: 28

Anderson_headshotResearcher Name: Olivia Anderson
Title of Research: Understanding the Impact of Partisanship on Climate Change Opinion from 1973-2016
Division Representing: Social Sciences
Institution: Eastern Connecticut State University
Institution Location: Connecticut
Home State: Connecticut
District Number: 2
Advisor/Mentor: Courtney Broscious
Funding Source: N/A

Research Experience:  
Before coming to Eastern Connecticut State University, I was interested in climate science and environmental policy. At Eastern, I developed a strong research agenda focused on public opinion and government policy that can improve the environment. I have taken numerous classes that afforded me the opportunity to work on original research.Some of these projects include, public opinion on the police, sea level rise policy analysis, depolarizing environmental consciousness among college students, and public opinion on voting behavior. For each of these projects, I developed a research question, reviewed the relevant literature, designed a methodological approach, collected original data, conducted analyses, and answered my research question. Through these projects I developed necessary analytic skills and realized the goals of my research. My policy analysis of sea level rise helped me to think critically about complex problems that are difficult for the government to solve. Through this work, I learned that I want the research I conduct to speak to practical problems we are facing and help us to begin to identify paths forward. These experiences were invaluable to conduct the work that I am submitting to present at Posters on the Hill. In addition to my research, my internship with The Borgen Project introduced me to the policy process. This experience allowed me to explore interactions with constituent public opinion and observe how legislator's actions are influenced by their constituents. This experience has informed my research by enhancing my practical understanding of the field.

Presentation Experience: 
I have had the opportunity to present research to both academic and non-academic audiences. The political science department at Eastern prepares students to make academic presentations. In accordance with my research projects, I have presented original research to Eastern faculty and an audience of my peers on eight occasions. The research presentations were time and evaluated by faculty with the goal of refining communication skills. In one presentation, I worked to break down complex scientific information for an audience that is unfamiliar with climate science. In a second presentation, I developed solutions to sea level rise and communicated them to members of The Watch Hill Conservatory of Rhode Island. During every presentation, I make an effort to ensure that the information I am relaying is accessible, because everyone might not have a thorough background in the topic. Beyond these examples, I have also been accepted to present at NCUR 2021 for related research. 

Significance of Research:       
In 2020, the UN identified climate change as the biggest threat to global security. While many of the world's leaders have reached consensus on this issue, the American public and political elites have become increasingly polarized. Since 1993, Democrats and Republicans have grown in difference on the perspective that climate change is a problem that the government should address. Sources of this growing divide are not well-known. This study utilizes a mixed methodological approach to answer two questions. First, do elites drive public opinion on climate change or do members of the public ignore elite cues and form their own opinions accordingly? Second, to what extent does the media affect public attitude formation of climate change? To examine the role of elite polarization in public opinion on climate change, I conduct time series analysis of public attitudes from 1973-2016. Testing relationships between public opinion and elite polarization over time reveals that variation in party attitudes on climate change can be partly attributed to elite polarization. To examine the role of mass media in swaying the public on key issues, a content analysis of two ideologically opposed newspapers demonstrates that elites use the media to polarize the public on climate change. Mass media utilizes two main tools to impact public perceptions, the use of polarizing language and shifts in content coverage or saliency. This analysis indicates that in order to make meaningful climate change policy reform, working to depolarize the parties and presenting climate change in a different approach is critical.

Uniqueness of Research: 
This study contributes to a gap in the political science literature by addressing the way political elites and media impact public attitudes about climate change policy. It additionally is practically important, since the results indicate when and why the major parties split on feelings towards the environment, and what it might take to enact meaningful change.