Political audiences: Environmental concerns, affinities & realities
Data has the power to give us a view into the behaviours and preferences of specific audiences, challenge our biases and help us develop an informed perspective. In this article I’ll be using a number of different data sources to take a look at how two key groups on the geopolitical spectrum, the left and right leaning voters and followers of political parties in the UK and USA, and their response to environmental issues.
To get a clear understanding of the current concerns of these two audiences I opt to use the recent ‘Zeitgeist’ dataset from GWI, which contains useful insight into Environmental concerns.
Before diving into the available data, I create two groups - one US/UK left leaning group made up of people who have stated their voting intention is for Democratic Party (US), Labour (UK), the Liberal Democrats (UK) and for the UK, other smaller regional parties who share their political standpoint such as the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru - and then a second audience which consists of people who show a voting preference for the Republican Party (US) and Conservatives (UK).
Mapping the results of these audiences’ Environmental concerns to a radar graph revealed that many of these are shared by both groups, but less so for the right leaning group. It is also worth bearing in mind here that, according to GWI Core attitudes data, of the left leaning group 45% stated an interest in Environmental issues while only 22% of the right leaning group shared this - which would help explain the differences in the chart above.
Of all the issues tracked from the GWI Zeitgeist data it is pollution which saw the most concern across both groups with 60% of left leaning voters and 47% right leaning voters showing concern here. With this in mind I wanted to understand more about how active these two audiences are in the global social conversation about this issue, and for that I turned to Audiense.
For the purpose of benchmarking, I started by building an audience group on the platform made up of people who have actively talked about pollution in recent weeks. I then identified the social media accounts most followed by this group and how uniquely they followed them compared to the left and right leaning audience groups - which I also re-built on Audiense.
What this Audiense data revealed is that neither political audience shared a huge amount of affinity with the climate focused social accounts favoured by the ‘pollution’ audience - with even the left leaning group only showing a fraction of affinity with accounts such as ‘UN Climate Change’, ‘Climate Reality’ and ‘Guardian Environment’. As the previous results from GWI would suggest - there was even less of an appetite here from the right leaning group.
To better understand the reasons why I decided to explore the non-profit and issues focused accounts which both of the political audiences do actually have affinity with and there something interesting was revealed - neither saw Environmental non-profits ranking highly for affinity. Instead, the left leaning audience appeared to favour more humanitarian orientated groups, whereas the right leaning audience favoured non-profits focused on areas such as freedom of speech, free enterprise and opposing abortion.
One area I was keen to understand about these audiences was how their perspectives on pollution might be shaped by their own environment. As a starting point I returned to the GWI data to understand where geographically those who expressed the most concern about pollution actually lived.
Studying the data shown above, it is of course worth bearing in mind that some of these regions see a strong bias towards political parties. For example it is very likely that Los Angeles is an area of concern for Democrats because it is mostly occupied by Democrats, which would also account for the fact Joe Biden scored a 71% share of the vote in last year’s presidential election.
There is a wealth of environmental data available for some of these locations, however as I’d recently discovered the excellent Google Environmental Insights Explorer I was keen to try it out here to understand how audiences’ concerns might reflect the reality of their urban environment.
Automotive Emissions data on two regions of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Long Beach, is available on the platform and this revealed the in 2019 there was a reduction in c02 from this source for both regions.
Although data for London was not publicly available, I was able to look at Kent (a county in South East England) to see how c02 emissions might reflect concerns there, as well as Greater Manchester in the North West. Data for these indicated a year-on-year increase in automobile c02 emissions.
In both cases a case could be made for emissions influencing audience views about pollution, although certainly Los Angeles there has been active steps from the local government and population to reduce c02 emissions in recent years and which has been further improved by the pandemic. Either way bespoke surveys and social media listening would likely fill in the gaps here.
When it came to data about how people in Manchester were searching online about air pollution, Google Trends revealed that levels of search had increased in the past five years – a likely indicator of concern which goes some way to validate the regional data we saw from GWI.
Data for action
Using data from various sources to identify and understand how specific audiences perceive and respond to environmental issues is key to making a case for informed action – especially for government and NGO’s who are seeking to understand how and where to best focus their efforts.
Although we are facing an environmental crisis of epic proportions right now, thankfully we also have the digital tools to help understand and resolve it.