New research findings on narrative in U.S. animal advocacy

Overview

Pax Fauna recently released messaging recommendations based on almost two years of qualitative research into the use of narrative in animal advocacy in the U.S. Specifically, our focus was on building public support for government actions to accelerate the transition away from farming animals.

Rather than reposting a ton of text here, I am mostly going to list some links to this research on our website, especially since we designed some interactive pages specifically to make these findings digestible. But I will give a short summary.

Why This Post

A few simple things I’m hoping might come out of posting here:

  • Get our recommendations in front of more people. If you know people who could apply these findings to public-facing animal advocacy communications, please consider sharing it with them.

  • Enable discussion. This is an ideal forum to field questions about the research, so leave a comment!

  • Find collaborators. We will soon be launching a pilot campaign (a ballot measure in Denver, CO, USA) designed to enable us to apply this research. I was recently put in touch with a researcher who is interested in using that opportunity to do further research (especially quant) to refine the messages in a real-world application. And I figured, the more the merrier.

  • Feedback on the research and findings.

Summary-of-the-Summary

The public’s attention is a precious, limited resource, and a crucial one for efforts to persuade them to support a cause. Currently, animal advocates focus our messaging on convincing the public that animal farming is harmful: to the environment, human health, and most of all, to animals themselves.

We found that while there is room for more education about environment and health harms, overall, lack of information is not the main thing limiting people’s support for animal advocacy.

Rather, the public are broadly aware of ethical issues. Their opposition to animal advocates is nuanced and layered:

  • Avoidance: They consciously try not to think about what happens to animals when shopping for meat.

  • Dissonance: When they do think about it, they feel distress and reduced appetite for meat.

  • Rationalization: They fall back on several familiar intellectual maneuvers to justify continued meat-eating, such as culture, tradition, and naturalness.

  • Futility: When all else fails, they say that it doesn’t matter what they do, because everyone else will keep eating meat and the world will never change.

Advocate messages do not currently address these deeper obstacles, futility in particular.

The most persistent obstacle in our interviews was futility. This futility is closely linked to the consumer frame. The default way Americans think about food is as consumers, focusing on personal choice and the interaction between consumer and retailer, while ignoring the major role government policy and corporate profits play in shaping the landscape of food choices available to them. While this frame emphasizes the consumer’s control over their own food choices, it is highly disempowering when thinking about affecting change in food production.

Animal advocates need a way to effectively shift the conversation about food from a purely consumer issue to a civic issue, involving citizen/​voter action through laws and government enforcement. This will necessarily involve both messaging and strategy: advocates need to find ways to engage the public in their role as citizens (e.g. by giving them chances to vote in favor of pro-animal policies) rather than only as consumers (asking them to purchase different foods).

We offer messages developed in focus groups that can shift away from this consumer frame, and speculate about strategies to engage the public in civic (as opposed to consumer) actions.

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