In this post I summarize key strategic implications from Sentience Institute's five completed social movement case studies and several additional case studies by other researchers, looking for correlations and convergent findings across the different movements and contexts. From this evidence, I argue that the farmed animal movement should take steps to avoid unintended consequences from incremental tactics; use a more diverse range of institutional tactics; use fewer individual diet change tactics, primarily as a complement to institutional tactics; explore opportunities to bypass public opinion; and focus less on issue salience. I also argue that the nascent movements to protect the interests of future sentient beings (e.g. artificial sentience) should focus first on building a credible, professional movement but subsequently invest in a broader range of social movement tactics when promising opportunities arise.
Sentience Institute has now published five social movement case studies. This post provides a summary of the strategic implications from this work so far.
The main goal of these case studies is to glean strategic insights for social movements encouraging moral circle expansion (MCE), especially the farmed animal movement and the nascent movements to protect the interests of future sentient beings (e.g. artificial sentience). Other social movements, including the broader effective altruism movement, may also benefit.
We have argued:
Individual historical cases can therefore provide inspiration for potential tactics and perhaps build our intuition, but we should not place much weight on strategic knowledge gained from a single case, because causal relationships may not replicate in different contexts and may seem to work in contradictory ways. Note, however, that weak evidence can still be useful and should not be disregarded as it is often all we have available.
Even if we are not very confident about individual hypothesized causal relationships, we may be able to place significant weight on the strategic knowledge gleaned from history if we see that certain correlations reliably replicate across different movements and across different contexts.
In this post, I identify correlations and convergent findings across the different movements and contexts that SI has studied so far.
The movements we have studied so far are:
- The British antislavery movement
- The US anti-abortion movement
- The US anti-death penalty movement (including brief discussion of Europe)
- The US prisoners' rights movement
- The international Fair Trade movement
We have a separate post discussing methodological considerations such as why we have chosen to focus on these particular case studies. Our research on this topic is incomplete, so I also draw on similar reports by other researchers associated with the effective altruism community:
- Animal Charity Evaluators’ case studies of childrens’ rights (UK, Sweden, and New Zealand) and environmentalism (US and Europe).
- Mauricio Baker’s case studies of antislavery and climate change, both with a broad international focus.
- Włodzimierz Gogłoza’s case study of the US antislavery movement.
To identify big-picture trends, I assigned scores to each movement for a number of different variables:
- Success — whether the movement encouraged institutional changes, change to individuals’ behavior, change in public opinion, or acceptance by targeted institutions. Where I refer to “successful social change,” I am referring to the average of these four submetrics.
- My rough impression of the proportion of resources spent by each movement on various tactics.
- The position taken by each movement on other strategic tradeoffs, e.g. confrontation vs. nonconfrontation.
I then estimated Spearman’s correlations between the variables and tested for statistical significance (p < 0.05), though there are many limitations to this sort of correlational historical evidence and to statistical tests with small sample sizes.
Looking more closely at specific case studies, I identify a number of other findings that seem to hold true in multiple contexts, even though I did not find significant correlational evidence for them from across the full set of case studies. The anti-abortion and anti-death penalty movements provide a number of strategic implications relating to the causes and effects of US Supreme Court rulings; these implications were analyzed in more depth in a separate report and so are not included here.
FULL LISTS OF STRATEGIC IMPLICATIONS
The full results of the scoring and correlational analysis are recorded in a spreadsheet. The full list of repeat findings from the qualitative, comparative analysis are reported in a second spreadsheet, ordered by strength of evidence.
The writeup below provides discussion on the strategic implications most relevant to prevailing practices in the farmed animal movement and the movements for future sentient beings, following additional qualitative analysis and synthesis of the findings identified by the above two methods. This means that, while potentially important, some of the recommendations below have relatively weak supporting evidence.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE FARMED ANIMAL MOVEMENT
TAKE STEPS TO REDUCE RISKS OF UNINTENDED NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES FROM INCREMENTAL TACTICS
Animal advocates often debate whether it is better to focus on welfare reforms or the abolition of animal farming without intermediary, incremental steps. Disagreement is partly due to differing ethical views (e.g. consequentialism versus deontology) and partly due to differing strategic views about whether welfare reforms lead to momentum or complacency for future progress. The case studies have implications for the latter component of the debate.
Similar concerns that incremental reforms may encourage complacency have been raised in other movements, such as worries that the US Supreme Court’s procedural reforms to the death penalty may have legitimated and encouraged the imposition of death sentences in lower courts by assuaging anxiety and the sense of responsibility for the decision. There is some weak evidence for these specific concerns, though the case studies also provide evidence that incremental reforms do not prevent subsequent, more radical reforms.
Some incremental social movement tactics seem to have had various other kinds of unintended negative consequences:
- The American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code seems to have been intended to fundamentally challenge capital punishment, but it was widely used to introduce and defend new state-level death penalty legislation that complied with restrictive laws.
- Litigation to improve conditions for US prisoners may have encouraged an increase in the number of prisons constructed and an enlargement of the prison administration bureaucracy.
- The Fair Trade movement’s engagement with mainstream companies seems to have led to a lowering of Fair Trade certification scheme standards.
Another risk is that incremental tactics distract advocates’ attention from more important political and systemic issues. The US prisoners’ rights movement won small palliative welfare reforms for prisoners while doing little to halt the increasing number of prisoners and more punitive treatment of criminals. The Fair Trade movement has made very limited efforts to address the unfavorable tariffs and international trade regulations that are arguably the root cause of the problems it seeks to address. Neglecting these trends may have been a major strategic mistake, though it’s not clear whether advocates could have affected them.
There are many good reasons to use incremental tactics, and most advocates who do so would presumably agree that, all else equal, it’s preferable to choose incremental tactics that are unlikely to have unintended negative consequences. However, l worry that the farmed animal movement doesn’t pay enough attention specifically to reducing these risks. I recommend that advocates:
- Avoid presenting incremental steps as a solution to the problem, e.g. via idealized imagery of animals in improved conditions or messages like “end animal cruelty.”
- Maintain a strategic focus on the bigger picture and long-term goals of the movement; switch tactics if wider societal shifts begin to happen that threaten the movement’s overall goals and successful counter-mobilization seems tractable. For example, the suffering caused by a rapid increase in insect farming could outweigh the value of all welfare gains won by the farmed animal movement to date.
USE FEWER INDIVIDUAL DIET CHANGE TACTICS, PRIMARILY AS A COMPLEMENT TO INSTITUTIONAL TACTICS
The case studies have strategic implications for another foundational question in effective animal advocacy — whether the farmed animal movement should focus its messages and interventions on changing institutions and social norms rather than changing consumer diets.
The largest US farmed animal advocacy organizations spent 46% of their resources on influencing public opinion and individual dietary behavior in 2016, but the case studies suggest that marketing and efforts to raise public awareness have limited effects on behaviors:
- The US antislavery movement engaged in a large-scale campaign of “moral suasion,” but the “free produce” consumer movement that arose from it failed to attract significant numbers of adherents.
- Although assessing causation is difficult, it seems unlikely that the widespread use of grassroots and direct action tactics has directly contributed much, if at all, to the modest decline in the number of abortions in the US since the 1980s. There is some survey and experimental evidence suggesting that tactics focused specifically on individual decision-making regarding abortions have little or no effect.
- There is evidence that marketing efforts have increased awareness of Fair Trade, but high awareness and support have not led to widespread changes in consumer behavior.
- More positively, campaigns by the US government and others have encouraged widespread participation in recycling.
In comparison, the largest US farmed animal advocacy organizations only spent 7% of their resources on influencing policy and the law in 2016, but some of the findings from the case studies suggest positive outcomes from legislative tactics:
- Legislative change can positively affect individual behavior.
- Legislative change can positively affect public opinion.
- Once influential institutions in one country or region adopt a value, they can influence institutions elsewhere to adopt the same value.
- Direct lobbying efforts sometimes make the difference between victory or defeat in closely fought legislative campaigns.
The antislavery and anti-abortion movements provide evidence that legislative change can occur before the behaviors that will be regulated have changed. This challenges the intuition shared by many animal advocates that the successes of individual and institutional tactics are interdependent.
However, I found that successful institutional change is positively correlated with change to individuals’ behavior. For example, the antislavery movement successfully encouraged both reduction of purchases of slave-made goods and legislation that abolished slavery, whereas only a small proportion of global trade is in certified Fair Trade goods and there have been few institutional changes specifically to encourage Fair Trade purchasing or values. So the success of these different types of tactics seems at least mutually complementary. There is evidence from the Fair Trade movement and other “ethical consumerism” movements that individuals who participate in consumer action are more likely to participate in other forms of activism. Additionally, the boycotts of West Indian sugar seem to have built momentum for the legislative campaigns of the British antislavery movement.
The case studies also show that consumer action can be taken by individuals who would otherwise be unlikely to contribute to a social movement:
- Boycotts of slave-produced West Indian sugar were led and encouraged by women who lacked political power or other opportunities for advocacy.
- The vast majority of the US population, including people with low support for environmentalism, recycle at least occasionally.
- Some individuals who would probably not usually donate to help the world’s poorest people still intentionally buy Fair Trade products.
As we have argued before, convergent evidence suggests that the farmed animal movement should shift some of its resources from tactics focused on individual diet change towards legislative and other institutional tactics. Where advocates continue to engage in individual tactics, they should:
- Proactively optimize for movement-building outcomes, such as contacting people who successfully participated in vegan pledge programs, offering follow-up support to involve them more deeply in the movement.
- Proactively optimize for institutional outcomes, such as utilizing forms of publicity that might be more persuasive to potential institutional partners than to individual consumers and following up with the reached institutions.
- Target individual-focused tactics primarily towards audiences who would otherwise be unlikely to contribute to the farmed animal movement, such as focusing on mainstream consumers rather than encouraging people who already eat mostly vegan food and identify with veganism to become “fully vegan.”
- When possible to suggest multiple ways that individuals can help animals, de-emphasize diet change relative to suggestions that they become active in support of institutional campaigns, such as joining groups like Hen Heroes and the Fast Action Network.
DIVERSIFY INSTITUTIONAL TACTICS BEYOND CORPORATE CAMPAIGNS
There are many possible institutional tactics that the farmed animal movement can use. Among these, the farmed animal movement primarily focuses on influencing industry in various ways. The case studies suggest that pressure tactics can be effective at challenging companies. There is evidence from beyond the case studies that corporate welfare campaigns can be highly cost-effective on short timeframes and that welfare reforms encourage momentum for further change.
However, I found among the case studies that successful social change was negatively correlated with the use of corporate campaigns and negotiations. For example, the antislavery and children’s rights movements — among the most successful — spent little on corporate campaigns, while the less successful anti-abortion and Fair Trade movements spent relatively more.
Additionally, it seems likely that each type of institutional tactic has some low-hanging fruit. For example, the anti-abortion, anti-death penalty, and Fair Trade movements provide evidence that it is especially tractable to pressure companies to stop selling a particular product type if it makes up only a small proportion of their profit margins. The anti-death penalty and antislavery movements first won legislative successes in areas where the targeted practices were not in regular use. The US anti-death penalty and prisoners’ rights movements seem to have been weakened by their narrow focus (at times) on litigation while neglecting other strategies, while the anti-abortion movement shows that advocates who successfully push through controversial legislation may need to defend that legislation in the courts. Hence, investing small amounts of resources in a variety of institutional tactics may generate surprisingly high gains for animals.
EXPLORE OPPORTUNITIES TO BYPASS PUBLIC OPINION
My impression is that farmed animal advocates often believe that legislative change is intractable without favorable public opinion. The case studies provide some support for this belief, suggesting that public opinion can positively affect legislative policy-making. However, the case studies also provide evidence that:
- Advocates can start successfully publicly advocating for institutional change even if they don’t yet have public support.
- Legislative change can occur without public support for that change.
- The attitude of policy-makers is a more important determinant of legislative outcomes than public opinion.
- Changing public opinion requires substantial resources.
Combined with the arguments above about the importance of legislative and other institutional tactics, this suggests that in some instances the movement should appeal to influencers and institutional decision-makers directly, without worrying about first securing favorable public opinion. However, this only seems wise in certain circumstances, since (i) it seems easier to introduce and implement unpopular laws if voters in the state do not have ready access to ballot initiatives or referenda, and (ii) politicians are incentivized to be more sensitive to public opinion on “morality issues” (e.g. a ban on factory farming) than on technical issues (e.g. food labelling regulations).
Of course, favorable public opinion can be useful for other reasons. I found that change in public opinion is positively correlated with change to individuals’ behavior. Besides, tactics that focus on education and attitudinal change might be important: I found that the use of such tactics is positively correlated with successful social change. For example, the successful antislavery, children’s rights, and European anti-death penalty movements spent a high proportion of their resources on such tactics, whereas the less successful US anti-abortion and US prisoners’ rights movements spent lower prorportions on them. However, there is less evidence on the optimal educational and attitudinal tactics and it seems intuitively plausible that the usefulness of these tactics could owe to their role in mobilising supporters, rather than successfully changing public opinion.
FOCUS LESS ON INCREASING ISSUE SALIENCE
We’ve argued before that the farmed animal movement should stop using publicity stunts and gimmicks such as sexualized images of women and cute, cartoonish animal costumes. Animal advocates sometimes justify the use of these tactics in terms of increasing public awareness and attention to farmed animal issues (i.e. increasing issue salience). While there may be some benefits to increasing issue salience, our case studies provide weak evidence that high issue salience can decrease the tractability of legislative change, which is evidence against tactics that are aimed at increasing salience. This might be especially so if advocates are trying to push through unpopular policies. High issue salience might also make it harder to encourage further attitude change.
Many tactics not explicitly focused on salience can still affect it. For example, there is evidence that institutional tactics can increase the salience of an issue.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE MOVEMENTS FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS OF SENTIENT BEINGS
The findings and strategic implications discussed above are also relevant to the movements for future generations of sentient beings. For example, legislative tactics seem promising, and it seems important to take care to avoid unintended negative consequences. Below, I highlight two other implications that seem important for these nascent movements.
FOCUS FIRST ON BUILDING A CREDIBLE, PROFESSIONAL MOVEMENT
There has been discussion in the effective altruism community about whether EA and various associated movements should focus narrowly on specific professional groups or on the broader population. Comparisons of tactics used at different times within particular movements suggest that social change is more likely to occur if credible professional groups and institutions advocate for change before broader participation and pressure is encouraged:
- The US ADPM’s fairly successful recent moratorium efforts were first driven by European political institutions, the American Bar Association, and Supreme Court justices, then supplemented by grassroots initiatives. By comparison, the early 20th century ADPM focused first on state-level, grassroots legislative campaigns, which gave way to a centralized litigation effort that culminated only in a temporary victory through the Furman v. Georgia ruling.
- The British antislavery movement’s Abolition Committee was led by MPs, and some of the first ally-led antislavery advocacy was through litigation. It was from this platform that the movement turned towards mobilizing grassroots support. Britain was among the first countries to ban the slave trade and then to emancipate slaves. The later American Anti-Slavery Society seems to have had a less professional leadership and focused initially on widespread antislavery messaging; membership numbers grew rapidly, but US advocates failed to win victories for slaves until they changed their approach.
- The US anti-abortion movement seems to have had more of a public-facing focus than its abortion rights opponents at several points where it suffered major defeats.
Given the technical nature of many of the issues that the movements for future generations of sentient beings seem likely to focus on (e.g. complex regulatory topics, research to address specific risk factors), decision-makers may not be very sensitive to public opinion anyway. Of course, the cutoff point at which a movement should start opening the door to broad, public-facing campaigns will be unclear.
USE OTHER PROMISING TACTICS
Many successful tactics in the case studies do not yet seem to be an important part of some movements for future generations:
- Pressure tactics can be effective at challenging companies.
- Consumer action can be taken by individuals who would otherwise be unlikely to contribute to a social movement.
- Encouraging consumer action can build momentum for institutional campaigns.
- Media coverage can encourage institutional change.
- Selecting and encouraging the most compelling issue framings in public discourse can have substantial effects on public opinion.
As argued above, it may be premature to use public-facing tactics. Additionally, some of these tactics may never be viable, comparably to how there seem to have been no opportunities for consumer action in the anti-death penalty or prisoners’ rights movements.
Visible on SI's blog post version.
Does this correlation also go with when the movements were active and a general increase in corporate tactics over time? At least for your examples, antislavery and children's rights seem older than anti-abortion and Fair Trade.
I would guess the political and corporate situations today are quite different, with corporate influence stronger, perhaps especially in the US. Getting corporations to commit first should reduce their attempts to undermine legal reform or even get them to join in support to force their competitors to compete on a level playing field. Going through the corporate route first might also reduce the risk that the issue gets split between the political left and right, by preventing the industry from trying to build partisan support against it. This could also therefore reduce issue salience.
I haven't looked at those sort of over-time trends at the movement level and then compared across movements. I don't think there's enough info for that. But otherwise, I agree with all your points here. I didn't update my views on corporate campaigns very substantially when I noticed this significant correlation, though I did update them a little.
Given your pessimism about individual outreach, the low (but surprisingly high) public support for banning animal agriculture, and the pushpack against incremental reforms, what paths do you see towards banning on a wide scale a) factory farming and b) animal agriculture generally?
Mainly through substitutes? Or is there a series of institutional reforms that are tractable and could get us the support to get there?
Factory farming bans specifically seem plausibly in reach in some regions.
To be clear, my "pushback against incremental reforms" is not meant to suggest that the average successful incremental reform will have net negative effects, just that there are real risks that we should be attentive to and seek to minimise or avoid where possible.
I do see incremental institutional reform as a very important contributor. I don't have a specific "series" in mind. If we wanted to replicate the example of the British antislavery movement closely, we might seek bans on factory farming as a major step, and frame this explicitly as a step towards abolition. But there's not much reason to expect that this was necessarily the optimal strategy -- they were successful, but this success could be explicable due to many different contributing factors.
I think there are many tactics that could contribute in some shape or form. I've written about various institutional approaches here, but I do think that there's some scope for individual focused tactics too, as addressed at the bottom of that post and in the section above (using them as a "complement").
Would regional factory farming bans (much lower stocking density limits, no intensive confinement like cages or crates; not bans of animal agriculture in general) count as incremental?
They would be incremental towards the goal of abolition, but not towards a large scale ban on factory farming?
This is just a definitional thing? I think most people would see that as incremental, but just a much larger / more radical step than most incremental tactics we usually refer to.
And for what its worth, along the lines of my argument above that we should diversify institutional tactics, and given that I don't think there's much reason to suspect that conservative institutional legislative tactics will necessarily be most cost-effective in the long-run, all-things-considered, I'd like to see more resources going towards these sorts of more radical institutional campaigns, and more experimentation with tactics that might help to advance such campaigns.
It helps to distinguish possible goals (ending factory farming vs ending animal agriculture), since a given intervention might be incremental towards one but a large step towards another, and you draw conclusions about incremental reforms vs achieving the goal. If factory farming is far worse than other animal agriculture, then local factory farming bans are probably far better to pursue than animal agriculture bans, since they get most of the value, and are much more feasible. Even if it turned out that local factory farming bans were counterproductive towards animal agriculture bans, they would be worth pursuing anyway.
From a longtermist perspective, maybe it's not the case that factory farming is far worse, though. Plausibly it is if we're expecting some attractor state/lock-in event soon, and we need to take what we can get now, but if we're aiming for a wider moral circle later, maybe we should try to go straight for animal agriculture bans. We might shift away from welfare reforms to animal product substitutes, to get enough support for full animal agriculture bans in some regions. (Although the incremental welfare reforms might turn out to be valuable anyway, for momentum and reducing the gap for price parity.)
Agreed with all, I think!
Because the animal farming industry has a lot of political power in most countries, I feel that it is they who are likely to push through unpopular policies that benefit animal farmers financially but hurt animals. I may be wrong, but I don't think that animal advocates pushing through unpopular policies has much precedent. I'm not sure what leverage animal advocates could use to do that.
Why should the farmed animal movement be different in this regard?
You might be right that, as a general rule this possibility might benefit animal agriculture more than animal advocates at the moment. I can imagine this could work for some more technical or behind the scenes issues (e.g. funding for animal product alternatives R&D being diverted from funding for other more popular seeming sciencey things) or working for more major institutional changes in the future if there was substantial elite opinion change (as seems to have happened with the death penalty in Europe)
One potentially important disanalogy between the animal advocacy movement and others with respect to incremental reform is that incremental reforms often make animal products more expensive for consumers, and this can help cultured and plant-based substitutes achieve price parity, which may be an important catalyst, and it can generally make vegan foods more attractive.
There are many disanalogies. I gesture at these in the "Features of the X Movement" sections of each case study, though I don't unusually make explicit comparisons to the farmed animal movement, mostly for space reasons. (More on the methodology here)
Are you suggesting that this particular disanalogy substantially weakens any of the specific claims or recommendations I make here?
(Less important, but with respect to this particular point, I think there's a similar effect from Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers and other incremental anti-abortion legislation, which makes abortion more difficult or expensive. Restrictions on lethal injection and other methods of capital punishment similarly raise the price of capital punishment relative to other options, albeit only by a small amount, and capital punishment is already more expensive. And more tentatively, there's an analogy with the welfare reforms implemented by some slaveowners. So I don't actually think that this disanalogy is as strong as many of the others we could point to.)
Maybe not substantially, since I think I agree overall with these two recommendations, but it might weaken concerns about negative consequences from incremental tactics and the case for diversifying beyond corporate campaigns (as long as we keep supporting animal product substitutes, which should of course go beyond corporate campaigns, as long as doing so actually makes much difference).
These are good points. Still, I think that if substitutes are approaching parity, the argument is that many people won't see any good reason to stick with conventional animal products, and there are risks that substitutes won't reach parity without increasing the costs of conventional animal products, and that getting to price parity without increasing the costs of conventional animal products will take much longer (although corporate campaigns are not the only way and maybe not the best way to raise their prices). I would guess that support and opposition to capital punishment and abortion are not very sensitive to cost, being instead driven primarily by ethical views (or political identity), but a large percentage of the population would switch to substitutes as they approach parity, since that's the main or only thing holding them back now, not some separate preference for conventional animal products or for animals to be farmed (although that's the case in many people, too).
Slavery could be a good analogy, since we're talking about the public's consumption habits and many people making their livings off of it (with animal agriculture, I'd guess there are proportionally far fewer animal farmers, but the industry has significant political influence anyway, and there's a lot of support for animal farmers from non-farmers).
Thanks for the clarifications and comments!
I'm inclined to agree with this, and discussed it a bit in the anti-abortion case study. (See the bullet point beginning "One paper finds that “the fundamental law" and the corresponding footnotes, 371-3)
Interesting. A few comments on this:
Thanks Jamie, this is quite useful. I am thinking about how to best disseminate it more widely. I know a lot of passionate vegan activist who would probably benefit from reading it but I suspect that few of them will engage with the post at this level of detail.
It might help if there was some sort of teaser to get people to get attention and engage potential readers.
Would it be possible to create a one page plain language summary, an infographic/sharable image or a short video of you summarising what you did and what you found?
Also, just as a comment, I think that the idea that social movement activism can have unintended bad consequences is particularly under appreciated amongst some vegan activists.
Something like the the 80k 'failed social interventions list' but animal advocacy focused, would be a very valuable resource (for me anyway) to influence vegan advocacy approaches.
Interesting, thanks for the feedback and suggestions!
I think that this blog post is about as plain language / simplified as we're likely to go, for now, partly because there are just so many nuances and caveats required that stripping even more of these out (I already stripped quite a few, and worried about doing so) might be misleading or damaging.
I think it's more likely that we (or others!) would use this evidence as an input into more public-facing content about particular sub issues. E.g. a blog post specifically about "the idea that social movement activism can have unintended bad consequences" which draws on this historical evidence, as well as psychological/communications studies research into backfire/boomerang effects following persuasion attempts, etc etc. Or persuasive writing along the lines of "Use more of X tactic and less of Y" where we include the historical evidence alongside other evidence, similarly to how we have written about institutional vs. individual tactics (blog example, academic paper example).
That said, if someone else wanted to work on distilling the work into a more accessible format, I'd be happy to discuss and assist.
Thanks Jamie, that's fair enough! I'll share this as it is. If you have the bandwidth it would be great to keep the dissemination options in mind and plan for accessible outputs for the future. I don't want to say much more but my opinion is that you can probably communicate the findings with the same fidelity via a video as a document/blog post. In either case you are hoping that people will dive into the report for the full details after you give the summary but often they just focus on the key points/highlights/section headers regardless. However, in the case of the video its probably likely people will stay watching and also that more people will watch. I don't have citations for that but I know for instance that videos are much more likely to go viral on LinkedIn for example. Anyway, it's just a thought. Keep up the great work!
Thanks Jamie, this is super super interesting and have shared with our strategy team at Animal Rebellion. Feels validating as we're doing some of the above points you've mentioned (institutional tactics vs individual change, diversifying beyond corporate campaigns, pressure tactics etc.) but there's a couple here I'm more curious about:
For this recommendation (and focusing less on increasing issue salience to a degree), I worry that not doing so will help us win the technical challenges early on but then will leave us struggling down the line when it comes to the larger "morality"-related steps later on, such as banning factory farming completely. Do you think we'll be able to make those larger steps without widespread public support or do you believe we should focus on increasing public support at a later date, perhaps when we've already had more wins or figured out a great issue framing?
Also whilst it's not clear to me how easy it is to change public opinion, I've been doing some research on Extinction Rebellion (see one graph below) that they've been able to significantly alter public opinion for about £500,000, which seems well worth it. For reference, Extinction Rebellion start in mid 2018 so the gradual increase before then I believe could be attributed to them too.
We do this quite effectively in my opinion (150+ media mentions for one action) however it seems to against your recommendation of focusing less on increasing issue salience. How would you reconcile these things? And when you refer to media, are you referring to certain forms of media publications or those aimed at certain audience? An example, is it best to try get into mainstream TV, LadBible or newspapers aimed at conservatives?
Whilst we definitely try to do this, it's extremely hard to know which issue framing or messaging performs best as there hasn't been much substantive work on issue farming for animal advocacy to my knowledge (very worth funding imo). Also, it seems ideal if the animal movement could collaborate on a shared issue framing as it seems that's when movements are most effective at changing public discourse, when a shared message is used from different angles and institutions.
Thanks for the engagement James and for sharing with Animal Rebellion!
My guess is that we can. The evidence that policy change --> public opinion change is not just limited to social movement evidence. I've nearly finished a first draft of a post on "Effective strategies for changing public opinion" (which I suspect you'll be v interested in!). Here's the relevant section, though I've omitted the lengthy footnotes:
"Oskamp and Schultz (2005) summarize several studies showing that public opinion often follows US foreign policy quite closely. There is evidence that public opinion changes can occur from policies affecting social issues and the breadth of the moral circle, too. Some studies suggest that international policies and policies in neighboring jurisdictions can also affect public opinion. When the Supreme Court makes a decision, this tends to cause public opinion to move towards the opinion implied by that decision, though this does not always happen. This all suggests that if advocates can encourage policy change, public opinion will tend to move towards support for those policies. Nevertheless, political scientist James Stimson (2015) presents evidence that public preferences regarding the general direction of further government action sometimes shift in the opposite direction to trends in government policy itself."
There are also various other positive effects (some discussed in the blog post above or the associated spreadsheet) from policy changes that might help, e.g. "Once influential institutions in one country or region adopt a value, they can influence institutions elsewhere to adopt the same value" and "Legislative change can positively affect individual behavior" (which might in turn affect attitudes, advocacy etc).
I think of lots of caveats to my answer that "my guess is that we can," but I'll resist the temptation to spend the rest of the day typing up thoughts on those nuances.
One that I will comment on briefly is that the case studies also highlight that "Legislative change can cause backlash and counter-mobilization". So its true that if radical change is won at the policy level but the movement is not sufficiently prepared to defend those victories, it could cause more problems than its worth.
I do think we should "explore opportunities to bypass public opinion" but I can see a case for trying to do so on lower stakes or more technical issues first, for example.
Thanks for sharing this, that's very interesting. Some caveats on that graph:
That said, the spike does look very impressive, so that's still a slight update for me.
I think the forthcoming research on public opinion change that I mentioned will bring some clarity to this. Some quick thoughts:
So the point is essentially that, yes, "Media coverage can encourage institutional change," but that that could be for good or ill, depending on the coverage.
You might like to dig into the case studies I cite for the claim. I don't think they help to make recommendations as specific as this.
That said, here's some partly relevant content you might be interested in:
Very much agreed.
I'm less sure about this. I can see that, in some instances, uniting resources and efforts around a particularly promising framing would be very helpful. But I also think that if often makes sense to tailor your messages to your audience quite substantially (see also "consistent vs. varying messaging").
Your recommendation on reducing focus on issue salience is consistent with Ezra Klein's opinion on the subject, which he discussed on the 80,000 Hours podcast here (and was surprising to me when I first heard it). Basically, the more attention an issue gets, the more polarized it gets.
Apparently Dylan Matthews tweeted a study on this; if anyone finds it, please share! :P
Did you adjust for multiple tests? It looks like you didn't adjust the level for significance down (0.05), so did you adjust p-values up?
I didn't adjust. This was very much "exploratory analysis", and it's not common to adjust in exploratory analysis as far as I'm aware.
I also didn't discuss a couple of correlations that turned out to be significant because it seemed pretty likely to me that they were spurious / artifacts of the methodology and question wording; and I was worried that either people would misinterpret or place too much weight on the "findings", or I'd have to make the post excessively lengthy to discuss the various caveats and nuances.
We had a lot of internal discussion about whether using this statistical analysis was appropriate, given concerns such as (1) the very small number of data points, (2) the scores not really being continuous data since they were always either whole numbers or halves, etc. So any thoughts on the methodology used there are welcome.
Hmm, I guess with at least 40 correlations (before excluding some?), making this kind of adjustment will very likely leave you with no statistically significant correlations, unless you had some extremely small p-values (it looks like they were > 0.01, so not that small), but you could also take that as a sign that this kind of analysis is unlikely to be informative without retesting the same hypotheses separately on new data. EDIT: Actually, how many correlations did you test?
I think it's worth noting explicitly in writing the much higher risk that these are chance correlations, due the number of tests you did. It may also be worth reporting the original p-values and adjusted significance level (or adjusted p-values; I assume you can make the inverse p-value adjustments instead, but haven't checked if anyone does this).
It might also be worth reporting the number and proportion of statistically significant correlations you found (before and/or after the exclusions). If the tests were independent (they aren't), you'd expect around 5% if the null were true in all cases, just by chance. Just reasoning from my understanding of hypothesis tests, a higher proportion than 5% would increase your confidence in the claim that some of the statistically significant relationships you identified are likely non-chance relationships (or that the significant ones are dependent), and a similar or lower proportion would suggest they are chance (or that your study is underpowered, or that the insignificant ones are dependent).
I was going to suggest ANOVA F-tests with linear models for dependent variables of interest to get around the independent tests assumption, but unless you cut down the number of independent variables to less than the number of movements, the model will probably overfit using extreme coefficients and perfectly predict the dependent variable, and this wouldn't be informative. You could constrain their values to try to prevent this, but then this gets much messier and there's still no guarantee this will address the problem.
EDIT: Also, I'm not sure what kinds of tests you used, but with small sample sizes, my understanding is that tests based on resampling (permutation, bootstrapping, jackknife) tend to be more accurate than tests using asymptotic distributions (e.g. a normally distributed test statistic is often not a good approximation for a small sample), but this is a separate concern from adjusting for multiple tests. I'm also not sure how much this actually matters.