Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tea Party, Politics and Global Warming

A special report from the Yale Center for Climate Change Communication, Politics & Global Warming: Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and the Tea Party reports how the members of each political party respond to the issue of global warming. For people who have studied US attitudes toward climate change, most of the results are familiar. However, for the first time, this report separates the views of Tea Party members on global warming from the traditional political categories of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. So, that's where I'll focus.

As shown in the chart below, Tea Party members are both least likely to believe in global warming and most entrenched in their opinions (feeling that they are more informed and don't need additional information to form their opinion). 
Consistent with the strength of their views, they are less likely to change their view based on empirical experience (i.e., extreme weather; specifically, either the heat wave of the summer or the snowstorms of the winter).

The public is notoriously bad at 'knowledge' questions. For example, the national average is identically split on the level of scientific consensus: 41% say most scientists think global warming is happening and 41% think there is 'a lot of disagreement among scientists'. This is, of course, an empirical issue. One can count up the views of the scientific community as Naomi Oreskes and others have done. No one did particularly well when asked "what proportion of climate scientists think that global warming
is happening?" Only 18% of Democrats and Independents got the right answer (81-100%) while 1% of Tea Party members gave that response. In contrast to all other groups, Tea Party members were more likely to understate the level of consensus (suggesting only 21-40% of climate scientists believed global warming was occurring).

There is a lot more in the report, but,  in general, three additional areas stand out:
1) Compared to the rest of the population, Tea Party members are more individualist and less egalitarian in their personal values.
2) Compared to the rest of the population, Tea Party members distrust social institutions and information sources of all types.
3) Despite these fundamental differences, there are some specific climate relevant policies that Tea Party members support in greater numbers than other groups (building more nuclear plants) or hold views generally similar to the rest of the population (funding research into renewable energy, creating bike paths/lanes, increasing availability of public transportation).

In sum, there is a strong and entrenched opposition to the way the climate debate has been framed in the US. The Tea Party members are, and will remain, able to block any 'big government' policy focused on 'global warming.' It is time to reframe the debate in terms of energy and other areas where progress is possible.

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