How do our social and professional circles affect the way we share and consume information? How might these networks impact climate and energy policymaking? A research team from the University of Maryland received an additional $450,000 from the MacArthur Foundation to examine how climate and energy policy networks are evolving at both state and federal levels in response to the 2016 election. In total, the Foundation has provided $900,000 in research support for the 3-year project.
The project is led by Dana R. Fisher, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Sociology and Director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland. Fisher is joined by five UMD graduate assistants and two co-investigators from other universities on this effort.
“Our project is mapping out what ‘clusters’—groups of policy actors—are forming around particular climate-related issues. We hope to explain the formation of these clusters and how they are related,” Fisher said. “We are also comparing how actors engaged in climate decision-making present themselves publicly to how they see themselves, or what we call ideological versus policy networks.”
The project is broken down into three phrases: the baseline period, the pre-election period, and the post-election period. In the first two phases of the project, the research team mapped out baseline and the post-election networks and assessed how they changed.
In this next phase of the project, Fisher and her colleagues will examine the evolution of clusters and networks in the changing U.S. political scene. Once the post-election period is complete, analysis will focus on change over the full period of the project—from the introduction of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan in 2013 through the first 100 days of the Trump Administration.
“The new grant will enable us to extend this research into the Trump Administration to look at how the climate and energy policy networks shift in their focus and make-up with the new Administration and Congress,” Fisher said.
In addition to the federal level, the research is focusing on four battleground states: Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. The project will conclude in 2018.
The new grant extends the research already being conducted about how information related to climate policies diffuses among political elites, through the media, and on social media.
During the grant’s first year, the research team explored the degree to which information and discussion about climate issues were stymied by echo chambers—closed loops wherein the same messages are repeated over and over to similarly minded policy actors—rather than expanding the conversation and “climate constituency.” Analysis of data collected during the pre-election period shows that echo chambers persist in climate politics in America, but had shifted to be directed toward the Clean Power Plan.
“In the post-election period, we expect echo chambers to re-orient themselves to focus on President Trump’s efforts to shift the energy sector away from clean energy sources that have been thriving to coal and other fossil-fuel based sources,” Fisher said.
The following graphic depicts the federal twitter “mention network” around the Clean Power Plan between the introduction of the Obama Climate Action Plan and July 2016. Arrows go from the tweeter to the mentioned handle in postings about the Plan. Clear distinctions in behavior and audience patterns emerge. The most dense discussion focused around critiques of the Clean Power Plan that originated from @AmericasPower, the twitter handle for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity that advocates for coal-generated power.
Clean Power Plan Mention Network (based on Twitter data) June 2013-July 2016
Learn more about the project and the research team.