A Hostile Climate

What social media is saying about Trump’s environmental policies

In the early days of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump spoke little about his views on climate change, though his Twitter revealed nebulous tweets dating back to 2012 that dismissed climate change as a hoax created by the Chinese. But as he approached victory, his intentions became clearer. He voiced support for coal, promising to roll back regulations. He pledged to cancel the Paris Agreement. After winning the election, he solidified his stance on climate change by picking a climate change skeptic to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, with Trump’s executive order to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, it’s another axe in the grave for environmental progress for climate change believers.

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To react to current events like Trump’s actions on climate change, people are increasingly taking to social media. A 2014 study by Pew Research Center found that half of social media users shared news stories, images, or videos. Analyzing the conversations that take place online can help us gauge reception to Trump’s environmental policies.

Fifty Shades of Charcoal

Trump’s time in office has been a whirlwind of policy announcements followed by reactions that differ by magnitude and audience. This is no different for Trump’s environmental policies.

The Trump-related environmental announcement that sparked the highest number of reactions on social media was Trump instructing the EPA to remove climate change information from their website, generating about 20k more posts than eliminating the Clean Power Plan. Just five days after his inauguration, many were furious about the swiftness of Trump’s actions, driving negative sentiment.

On Feb. 19, Trump was embroiled in yet another anti-media tweetstorm. When Senator Bernie Sanders took this opportunity to call out Trump’s climate change denial as fake news, volume spiked again, to 23k posts.

The next spike came a month later, on Mar. 15, when Trump announced that he will drop the terms “climate change” from environmental reviews. With the March for Science looming on April 22, people are prepared to fight Trump’s assaults on science.

Beyond splitting posts into negative or positive, a look at emotions showed fear as the dominant emotion, followed by sadness and joy. Joy was the most prominent when Trump announced eliminating the Clean Power Plan. After failing to pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Trump supporters were dying for a victory to celebrate.

Digging for the Reasons to Oppose or Support Trump’s Environmental Policies

Puzzling as it may be to climate change believers that Trump’s climate policies garner support, the large contingent of people who voted Trump into office share many of Trump’s views.

When posts were segmented into “oppose Trump” and “support Trump,” those who oppose Trump outnumbered those who support Trump. Since Jan 1, 82 percent oppose Trump’s climate policies while 18 percent support. On March 28, 78 percent oppose Trump’s climate policies while 22 percent support them.

Opposition to Trump’s actions on climate change was driven primarily by the desire to prevent pollution and protect the environment. Support, on the other hand, was fueled by the desire to protect the coal industry. Other notable reasons people cited for supporting Trump’s environmental policies included dismissing climate change as fake science, believing that the EPA wastes money, and wanting to improve American manufacturing.

As the earth rapidly barrels towards an uninhabitable state in the eyes of climate change believers, environmental regulations are stymying the American coal and manufacturing industries according to climate change deniers. So far, Trump’s executive orders favor industry over environment. Analyzing the conversation on social media provides insights on the reasons why one may or may not favor Trump’s actions.

To learn more about social media analytics, download our Fundamentals of Social Media Analytics Guide.

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