More Than Just Animals
Why do views on animal rights vary so widely across society? Even within a family, one person can be vegan while another is an avowed meat eater. Likewise, neighboring states have vastly different laws regarding animal welfare, and in some parts of the world, the concept of animal rights is completely unknown. A 2017 Gallup survey of U.S. residents highlighted these contradictions. Within the same group of respondents, 44% said that medical testing on animals was morally wrong while 57% agreed that buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur was OK. In Europe, battery cages for hens are banned outright in some countries but still permitted in others.
So how do we make sense of these conflicting beliefs and practices? In this study, researchers consider a variety of factors including wealth, political and religious beliefs, and agricultural interests to see if they can find a way to predict who will support the rights of animals. They also explored the linkage between the belief in human rights and animal rights.
Data used for this analysis came from national public opinion surveys in the U.S. Information on animal rights laws came from the Humane Society of the United States. Using the survey data, the researchers looked for correlations. Gender, Christian religiosity, income, political leanings, and employment in agriculture was compared with survey responses about support for animal rights. The authors also looked at whether support for the rights of marginalized and disadvantaged humans was linked with more support for the rights of animals.
At the individual level, respondents who identified as conservative or more religiously active were less likely to support animal rights. Those employed in animal agriculture expressed similar views. Women were more likely to support animal rights and oppose animal experimentation, and while prior research had suggested that increasing wealth affords people the luxury of caring for animals, the current study failed to confirm this. Meanwhile, income was an inconsistent predictor of support for animal rights. But perhaps the most interesting finding was that respondents who expressed support for marginalized persons such as racial minorities and the poor were the most likely to express support for the rights of non-human animals.
Data examined at a state level produced similar results. If a state protects the rights of groups such as undocumented immigrants and victims of hate crimes, its citizens tend to concur in their beliefs. Moreover, residents of a state which supports disadvantaged and marginalized groups also expressed support for legal protections for animals. Democratic-leaning states tend to have stricter animal welfare laws than Republican-leaning states. And states who rely on agricultural output were less likely to legislate protection for animals.
As animal advocates, we need to understand why people have the beliefs they do. It’s the key to informing effective animal welfare campaigns. Different messages will resonate with different people, and some may backfire entirely if directed at the wrong audience. This research can help us learn which attributes matter in those we’re trying to reach. In turn, we can craft more targeted campaigns that deliver the most effective message to those most open to receiving it.