Those who expect a larger demonstration are less likely to go themselves. Researchers at the University of Hamburg drew this conclusion from an experiment on the global climate strikeCalled by “Fridays for Future” in 2019. The strategy of organizing several local protests at the same time instead of one central event, motivates a larger number of people.
Johannes Jarke Neuert’s team surveyed 1,510 randomly selected adults from Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Cologne – at three different times. Two weeks before the mass demonstration, participants must indicate whether they plan to march themselves. They were also asked to estimate how many participants would take to the streets that day. Shortly before the climate strike, volunteers answered those questions again — with one difference: the scientists had previously told each other how many people they surveyed actually wanted to protest. This group then adjusted their ratings of overall engagement. Did this have an impact on their willingness to protest? In fact: If total estimated participation increased by one percentage point, the probability of participating in the demonstration decreased by about 0.7 percentage points. If the assumption changes to negative, the chance of participation increases.
Various explanations are questionable for scientists: Large crowds may have a deterrent effect. Or one person feels less important when more people than expected join the protest. The researchers also point out that the result might have been different if the test participants had known each other. In this case, social norms and peer pressure were more prominent. The experts also have a PR tip for the upcoming climate movement protest: “In terms of communication strategies, it seems advisable to convey conservative estimates to the media before another global climate strike occurs.”
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