December 9, 2022 | NEWS | By Eli Jaynes | Photo by Ella Neurohr
Last Friday, Colorado College Professor Kat Miller-Stevens published new research in the Review of Policy Research, alongside four current and former CC students. Isabel Hicks ’22, Dova Castaneda Zilly ’23, Saigopal Rangaraj ’23 and Evan Rao ’23 co-authored the paper with Miller-Stevens and her colleague, Dr. Jonathan Pierce. Greta Forseth ’23 also contributed to the research but chose not to co-author the paper.
The authors titled their paper “How Anger and Fear Influence Policy Narratives: Advocacy and Regulation of Oil and Gas Drilling in Colorado”. Their work analyzes how policy advocates use emotions such as fear and anger to promote their desired outcome for a bill in front of the state legislature.
According to co-author Isabel Hicks, the project was more than a year in the making, as she started research for it during the summer of 2021. The preliminary research consisted of going through public testimony from 474 individuals about a bill in front of the Colorado state legislature in 2019.
The bill in question, Senate Bill 19-181, changed the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to prioritize the environment and public health over oil and gas development, according to the paper.
While the bill passed the legislature and was signed into law in 2019, the team hoped to look into the role that emotions like fear and anger played in getting it passed. Hicks said she would watch public testimony about the bill and code each advocate’s narrative based on the emotions they invoked.
With the data collected and analyzed, the team found that the advocates for the bill successfully used anger towards the oil and gas industry, while opponents of the bill were unsuccessful in their attempt to evoke fear about the uncertain consequences of the bill in their push to block it.
“Our biggest contribution is, yes, emotions are important. Clearly, they relate to narratives,” said Professor Miller-Stevens. “But there are certain emotions, as you can imagine, that drive people more to take action. And anger is the biggest one.”
Miller-Stevens and her co-authors were working within a political science framework known as the Narrative Policy Framework, which looks into how narrative strategies affect policy outcomes. According to Hicks and Miller-Stevens, the existing scholarship in this vein of research had largely ignored the role of emotions in advocates’ narratives about policy.
“So this is a new contribution to that field of research,” said Hicks. “Every academic who’s working on similar policy research, I’m sure will hopefully read [it] and find it interesting.”
Beyond being published in the Review of Policy Research, the authors traveled to Chicago in April to present their findings at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference. Hicks said the conference was a great opportunity to speak with other academics in the field and promote their work.
While the paper has now been published, the work on this subject is far from over for Miller-Stevens and other State of the Rockies fellows. Students collected more data on the subject this summer, and they hope to expand their research from the individual level to analyze how organizations and nonprofits use similar emotions in their advocacy.