Vegetarian, Vegan, Activist, Radical: Social Identity And Farmed Animal Advocacy
Support for factory farmed animals is driven by complex social contexts that have historically been examined in an overly simplistic manner. For example, both a vegetarian and a radical may sympathize with animals and therefore share a common ethic, but the action taken by the two personas is typically very different. A vegetarian may adopt a lifestyle choice approach (not consuming meat) while a radical may engage in political action. The purpose of this study was to examine the intersections between ethics and action, to identify personas that relate to various types of animal welfare behaviors.
The data for this study was obtained via the Mechanical Turk survey platform. The survey contained demographic questions, five Likert scale questions pertaining to psychological group membership (e.g., identification as a vegetarian, vegan, animal supporter), and 18 action-related questions (e.g., donate, purchase humane, limit meat, peaceful rallies). In addition, two measures of behavioral engagement were included in the survey. First, participants were asked to allocate $2.00 across three Mercy for Animals programs. Second, participants had an opportunity to click on a link to provide support for political legislative change and/or a link to rehouse an ex-battery farm hen. These two behavioral items were used as outcomes in which to compare the identified segments.
A total of 583 responses were obtained from North America. Of those 583 participants, only five participants were eliminated due to data validity concerns. A small majority (54.8%) of participants identified themselves as female, and the vast majority indicated that they followed an omnivore diet (85.3%). Only 6.2% indicated that they were fish and dairy vegetarians, an additional 5.9% indicated that they were vegetarians, and 2.4% indicated that they were vegans. The data were analyzed using a three-step process consisting of (1) identifying the number and type of segments, (2) determining the predictability of segment membership based on 18 self-reported attributes, and (3) comparing the segments based on the behavioral engagement component of the survey.
The results yielded three segments of participants, which were labeled as “ambivalent omnivores”, “lifestyle choice activists”, and “committed vegetarian radicals”. When comparing activists to ambivalent omnivores, the activists were more likely to identify as vegetarians and farmed animal supporters, have solidarity with animals, justify extreme measures, and believe in radical efficacy along with general group efficacy. When comparing radicals to ambivalent omnivores, the results show that radicals were more likely to identify as vegans and farm animal supporters, to justify extreme measures, to believe in political efficacy and radical efficacy, but less likely to believe in general group efficacy. Finally, when comparing radicals to activists, radicals were surprisingly less likely to have solidarity with animals. Radicals were also less likely to believe in group efficacy, and more likely to justify extreme measures and believe in radical efficacy.
In terms of observed behaviors, the results indicate that activists and radicals donated significantly more to direct action campaigns than ambivalent omnivores. Conversely, ambivalent omnivores donated more to political campaigns. Furthermore, activists were more likely to click on the link to the bill of rights than were ambivalent omnivores. No other significant differences were found between the three groups.
The results of this study support the hypothesis that lifestyle choices and actions for justice are interconnected for many people, and radicalism and conventional political activism are not mutually exclusive. These findings can help guide animal advocacy groups with their campaign approach. For example, providing people with an opportunity to develop relevant social identities and align with relevant actions may facilitate overall engagement. Furthermore, these results may provide valuable insights for animal advocacy groups because they provide identifiable segments for animal advocacy groups to target in a more differentiated way. With that being said, the authors indicate that future research should focus on surveying a more representative sample across different cultures.