This is the second in a series of articles on recent research by Environics, on behalf of EcoAnalytics, exploring what Canadians know about three potentially transformative environmental policies now being developed by the federal government, and the best frames and messages for promoting them. Those policies are: a cap on emissions in the oil and gas sector; national clean electricity regulations; and measures to meet Canada’s commitment to protect 30% of lands and oceans by 2030.
Federal clean electricity regulations are expected this fall and enjoy significant public support as a step toward a clean national electricity grid. Of all the government’s proposed climate action policies, this is the one that Canadians like most, but they still have questions and concerns about details.
Environics conducted focus groups last summer and a large national survey in April to better understand how people feel about the regulations and the clean grid they would help usher in. The qualitative round (Efficacy in Conversations about Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss Policies) recruited 54 Canadians from across the country who were concerned about environmental issues, but not highly engaged on these issues—the so-called Moveable Middle—to discuss the need, feasibility, and cost-efficacy of clean electricity regulations. Folks in this cluster of different social groups are neither climate deniers nor climate activists and make up about 45 to 50% of Canadians over 18. The follow-up survey (Environmental Policy and Efficacy: Communications Strategies) examined the opinions of nearly 2,300 Canadians from a broader range of backgrounds.
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The discussions revealed strong support for a transition to clean electricity, with participants making such comments as “Can Canada afford not to do this…?”, “This is highly desirable and long overdue…“, and “Of course this is something that we should be prioritizing ….” People said the transition off fossil fuels is inevitable to ensure clean electricity for everyone, and wanted to leverage Canada’s expertise as a world leader in clean (hydro) electricity for commercial advantage. However, they also had concerns about costs, inequity of impacts, potential environmental impacts (dams, turbines, nuclear power, and more mining associated with renewable energy), and the federal-provincial coordination required to flip the switch.
Environics’ national quantitative study tested frames and messages that would respond to these different perceptions and identified the ones that garnered more support for a national clean electricity grid. As the infographic shows, framing around Canada as a world leader, affordability, and better quality of life performed much better than messages about national unity and cooperation, and safety. The results were consistent across regions and demographics, but differed based on social values.
Social values data complements demographic data, often revealing the “why” behind people’s preferences. Environics has developed an extensive typology of Canadians based on their values, and the research drew on that rich source to identify three main segments:
• Rational Changemakers made up 31% of respondents, including most supporters of environmental NGOs within the wider group. They tend to be environmentally conscious and willing to challenge the status quo, base their support on facts and evidence, respond to clear calls to action and an appeal to responsibility, and prefer simple messages.
• High-Energy Hedonists accounted for 29% of respondents. They’re driven by emotion and a quest for stimulation and personal benefits, respond based on a fear of missing out, and respond to feelings, emotions, and the novelty and excitement of possible outcomes, rather than logic and information.
• Community-Driven Conformists comprised 40% of respondents. They’re inclined to accept the status quo, follow the rules, and crave security. They’ll respond to reassurances about the future and references to trusted authorities and challenge negative discourses. They are intimidated by change, so it helps to challenge their belief that this policy change will hurt the economy.
Frames around leveraging Canada’s experience and leadership in clean energy, affordability, and quality of life resonated well with all three groups. Reducing energy poverty only did well with Segment 1, while leadership and quality of life frames rated highest with Segment 2. Frames around reliability and jobs did better with Segment 3, but not with Segments 1 and 2.
While we know Canadians overwhelmingly support clean electricity, they do so for different reasons. To continue to build support, particularly among non-traditional audiences, climate communicators must take care to use frames and messages that appeal to all three audience segments. That means continuing to use affordability frames, but pairing them with other frames and messages to connect with each audience’s biggest concerns, all while keeping the overall message as simple as possible.
Knowing where audiences are uncertain or hesitant and understanding their motivations can help climate communicators craft strategies that meet different segments where they’re at, using information that appeals to their unique perspectives, identities, and experiences.