The Pope May Not Be Enough: How Emotions, Populist Beliefs, and Perceptions of an Elite Messenger Interact to Influence Responses to Climate Change Messaging

Jessica Gall Myrick, Suzannah Evans Comfort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


As a rise in anti-elite populist sentiment becomes an increasingly notable object of study in political realms, it is important to also consider how populism operates outside the electoral sphere. Americans’ support for climate change-related policy has been understood primarily in a political affiliation context, with Democrats likely to support such policy and Republicans likely not to. However, populist beliefs cross ideological divides. Study of the interaction of populist sentiment, perceived elitism of a climate messenger, and support for climate change-related policy sheds additional insights onto research about climate change communication and strategic message design. Furthermore, populist sentiment is tied strongly to two emotions empirically linked to climate change attitudes: anger and fear. Grounded in principles from the Elaboration Likelihood Model and the Appraisal Theory of Emotions, we conducted an online survey-experiment (N = 406) testing audience responses to climate change messages from Pope Francis and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, two messengers that have the potential to be perceived as elite. The data revealed an important interplay between populist sentiment, perceived elitism of a climate change messenger, and emotional responses to the message in shaping post-message support for climate change-related policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalMass Communication and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2 2020


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication

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