On September 20, 2019, the “Fridays for Future” movement calls for worldwide climate strikes. The German branch of the movement addresses all age groups in its call and explicitly asks adults to join the protests that day. The decision to protest can be viewed as strategic, depending on individual beliefs about others’ participation. We will conduct a framed field experiment in the context of this global climate strike to test the hypotheses that (i) the decision to participate in climate action is a strategic complement to others' turnout and (ii) that the magnitude of strategic complementarity is conditional on social distance.
The experimental design follows the study of Cantoni et al. (Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 134, pp. 1021-1077). They focus on the antiauthoritarian movement in Hong Kong and find evidence that the decision to join the protests is a game of strategic substitutes, i.e., people are less willing to join when they believe more others will do so. Nevertheless, Cantoni et al. stress the heterogeneity across political topics and suggest investigating the protest game in various settings.
In this study, we re-investigate the impact of updated beliefs on individual protest decisions in a different context. In addition, our study goes beyond a replication for two reasons. First, in contrast to the findings of Cantoni et al., we hypothesize that for the movement on climate action the individual protest decision is a strategic complement to others’ participation. While the antiauthoritarian protest in Hong Kong may be considered a public good itself, providing a signal to the regime by its mere existence, we expect that for climate action protest, the public good is the ultimate success of the movement, i.e. the change in climate policy. As the protest’s success monotonically increases with turnout, we hypothesize that people are more willing to join when they believe more others will do so.
Second, we expand the experiment reflecting the fact that “Fridays for Future” started and is still perceived as a youth movement. Given the focus on age, our second hypothesis is that the magnitude of strategic complementarity depends on the characteristics of other potential participants, in this case others’ age. We expect that subjects are more responsive to the age-related peer group.
To test our hypotheses, we will conduct an experiment with three stages. First, we will ask residents in the four largest German cities before the event about their planned participation in the upcoming local event and their beliefs about others’ planned participation. In the second stage, we will provide a random subset of subjects with truthful information about others’ planned participation before the event that we have derived from the first round. To reflect the focus on adults in this call for protest, we will provide another subset of subjects with additional truthful information about a certain age groups’ planned participation. Subjects receiving the interventions can update their beliefs about others’ participation and incorporate it in their decision to participate. After the event, we elicit subjects’ actual participation. This allows us to identify the causal effects of positively and negatively updated beliefs about others’ event participation on subjects’ own turnout.