Graham Sustainability Institute

The Promise and Risks of Framing Climate Change as a Migration Issue

Stack of newspapers

Could evoking empathy for the victims of climate change spur Americans across the political spectrum to act to reduce its causes?

Project Team

Kaitlin Raimi, Ford School of Public Policy (PI)
Julia Lee Cunningham, Ross School of Business
Nathaniel Geiger, Indiana University
Ash Gillis, Pennsylvania State University
Melanie Sarge, Indiana University

Project Summary

To galvanize public support for climate action across the U.S. political spectrum, researchers, advocates, and journalists are increasingly focusing on how climate change fuels migration. But early research suggests this approach may backfire: Linking climate change to international immigration has been shown to fail to promote climate policy support and may also, inadvertently, increase anti-immigrant sentiments.

This research team, who conducted the preliminary research cited here, will build upon their past work to explore different framings of climate migration, seeking framings that will translate into support for low-carbon policies. In addition, the team will examine how diverse segments of the American public uniquely react to these messages. By testing ways to flip the harmful effects demonstrated in their pilot studies, the researchers hope to create a set of best practices for journalists, policymakers, and climate advocates to present this vital aspect of climate change.

The researchers will conduct two distinct experiments with high-quality samples of 3,000 participants each, representative of the U.S. population. The first experiment will measure and compare how two different narrative constructions influence support for climate change policies that advance a low-carbon economy. Building on the first, the second will explore whether the observed effects are heightened among people living in regions of the U.S. at high risk from climate change. Taken together, the team’s findings will help climate change communicators optimize their strategies by showing what combination of messaging is most effective and where effects replicate across different populations.

This team received a $137,000 CNAP faculty research grant.