Partisan media and their climate change agenda-setting effects on partisan publics : examining the compelling arguments concept in the age of polarization
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This dissertation seeks to understand (1) what are the differences in the coverage of climate change among ideologically different media agendas, (2) what effects do these differences in climate change coverage have on partisan publics, and (3) what attributes of climate change coverage have compelling arguments effects on public perception of the issue and the public’s willingness to engage in activism. The study comes up with three key findings. First, conservative media tend to adopt attributes that dismiss climate change and its effects as unreal, while liberal media are more likely to emphasize the reality of climate change. Second, this difference in media coverage influences the relationship between media attribute agenda and the perception of partisan publics. For example, media attributes that focus on the negative consequences of climate change exert consistent compelling arguments effects on the liberal public’s perception of the issue and intention to engage in climate change activism. However, higher frequencies of a number of climate change attributes in media coverage correlate with decreased perceived importance of the issue among conservatives. Third, the public’s belief uncertainty moderates the effects of the media attribute agenda on the public’s perceived importance of climate change and intention to engage in action. This dissertation advances the compelling arguments concept in several ways. It is the first to provide empirical evidence on the relevance of this concept in examining the relationships between media attributes and behavioral intention. Also, its findings suggest that future agenda-setting research should take into account the fact that in today’s highly fragmented media environment, the news media agenda is becoming increasingly heterogeneous. The divergence in media coverage of a controversial issue is found to influence ideologically different public groups differently. Finally, individual predispositions should be considered in examining compelling agenda-setting effects on public perception and behaviors. Including differences in the news agenda as well as among the public will provide deeper insights into understanding the complexities of media effects on audiences.