The Role of Late-Night Infotainment Comedy in Communicating Climate Change Consensus


With climate change remaining a politically-polarised issue within the United States, successfully communicating the scientific consensus on climate change across the political spectrum has become increasingly important. However, despite political infotainment television programs (e.g. comedian John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight) often acting as a primary source of political news for many, no research has investigated the impact this media content has in changing climate policy support and pro-climate action intentions among conservatives relative to liberals. This study therefore aimed to examine whether John Oliver’s “A Mathematically Representative Climate Change Debate” clip on his program Last Week Tonight polarised or depolarised audiences on climate policy support and behavioural intentions. One hundred and fifty-nine participants, recruited via Amazon MTurk (94 female, 64 male, one gender unspecified, Mage = 51.07, SDage = 16.35, range = 18-76 years), were presented with either John Oliver’s climate change consensus clip, or a humorous video unrelated to climate change (A Last Week Tonight clip on “regifting”). As expected, liberals were more likely than conservatives to support mitigation and adaptation policies, and to intend to engage in climate action behaviours, regardless of the clip viewed. Additionally, no moderation effect of political orientation was found on mitigation policy support. However, findings suggest that this clip may result in hyperpolarisation on support for adaptation policies and increase climate action intentions relative to the unrelated clip in liberal-leaning participants. Implications of these findings for communication on polarised issues are discussed.