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‘Bring the Animals In’: Why don’t politicians talk about meat? The political psychology of human-animal relations in elections

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Political attention on the need to reduce meat consumption for environmental reasons cause voter backlash. Conversely, political candidates who demonstrate personal concern for farm animals, and strong support for animal rights, generally fare very well in elections, receiving large boosts in voter support.

SPARSHA SAHA: As the main driver of natural habitat loss worldwide and the largest anthropogenic land use type, the production of animal-based foods (including commercial fishing) is likely the leading cause of modern species extinctions. In Central US (and other hotspots in China and India), the planetary boundary for freshwater use has been exceeded already due to livestock… But, despite the large environmental costs of animal-based foods, governments have done little if nothing to address this issue.

In the U.S. context, the very opposite has been the case with growing subsidies that facilitate the production of cheap meat, legislative restrictions that exclude factory farms from having to report their emissions and waste to the EPA, and a virtual lack of policy to address the need to reduce American over-consumption of meat. Even the progressive left, which we might expect to be the most vocal given their environmental agenda, has barely acknowledged the role that animal agriculture plays in climate change and other critical environmental areas like biodiversity loss…

Building on literature from political science and psychology, I argue that political attention on animals and animal-friendly political candidates cause voter backlash. I test this using two different kinds of experiments with large, representative samples. I ask respondents to consider political candidates running for office in a U.S. presidential primary context. I find that, overall, political attention on the need to reduce meat consumption for environmental reasons caused voter backlash compared to both a control condition and attention on the need to reduce reliance on gasoline-powered vehicles (also for environmental reasons).

But, the heterogeneous effects of partisan identification were strong: voter backlash was mainly driven by Republicans and Democrats were neutral. Surprisingly, candidates who put attention on farm animal rights during elections faced no voter backlash from Republicans or Democrats. Animal-friendly candidates, particularly Black women and Latinas, with attributes that demonstrate personal concern for farm animals and strong support for animal rights generally fared very well in elections, receiving large boosts in voter support. This work launches a research agenda in political psychology that “brings the animal in” to politics. SOURCE…

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