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Divided [North] America: We are (still) divided on climate change 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
posted by Douglas Keene

global_climate_changeOur scientists are not divided but we the people are very divided on the issue of climate change. You would think that when 97% of scientists agree the global weather patterns (aka “climate change”) are changing (aka “warming”) that Americans would give up and just say “okay, yeah, it’s happening”. But if you think that, you are in for a disappointment according to a new article in the Environment Magazine.

In the face of increasing political divisions here in the US, we have begun to track multiple political analysis publications for information we can glean to use in litigation advocacy. In this paper, the authors say the division on climate change is likely an outgrowth of partisan polarization here in the US:

“Even the most casual observer of American politics cannot help but notice that partisan conflict has grown sharper, unrelenting, and more ideological over recent decades.” This has resulted from both political elites and—to a lesser but noticeable degree—much of the public viewing a growing number of issues along a single liberal-conservative continuum, and from this ideological axis becoming increasingly aligned with partisan identification.

Other writers (like political analyst Lilliana Mason) say that party identification has become a sort of “social identity” and, as such, is more important to how individuals see themselves. If this is accurate, and there is some reason to believe that is true based on other articles we’ve been reading in the political analysis area, then perhaps there are ways the political social identity would show itself. In an effort to not disappoint us, the author presents data on that very question.

Here’s an example of how that “social identity” is seen in a question as to whether the majority of scientists believe global warming is real. Recall that about 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real. Whether Americans accept that scientific consensus seems to depend on their political identification.  The following graphic is taken directly from the article (cited at the bottom of this post).

scientific-consensus-gallup-data

As you can see in this visual demonstration (based on data from the good folks at Gallup) the political polarization has been seen since about 2001 (which we would point out was when 9/11 occurred), since which time there has actually been a decrease in the number of Republicans reporting a belief in global warming.

Over time, the public opinions on this issue have hardened with Democrats and the total public agreeing with scientists and Republicans showing the most disagreement with scientists on global warming. The authors cite others who say that Republicans have become more conservative and Democrats have become more liberal over time.

As an aside, this is also not something we’ve seen in our own mock juror data although Republicans we have sampled are more likely than Democrats we have sampled to say they are conservative and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they are liberal. We just don’t think you can simplistically categorize Republicans as conservative and Democrats as liberal. We tend to think, as do our mock jurors who often write on our questionnaires asking if they are liberal or conservative—“on what issues?”.

With that said, however, we present another table from the article looking at the global warming views of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.  There is a huge difference between their perspectives. And we will add that if given a choice between self-describing as a conservative or liberal—our mock jurors who describe themselves as “very conservative” and “very liberal” are indeed outliers who respond differently than those who are “merely” either conservative or liberal. The authors think the partisan divide was first seen back in 2008 but it has grown since then. They feel strongly enough about the partisan divide to say this:

“Whether, and how, individual Americans vote this November may well be the most consequential climate-related decision most of them will have ever taken.”

republicans-and-democrats-on-global-warming

While we’ve seen other trial consultants we respect saying political party affiliation is a good identifier of values, attitudes and beliefs, we haven’t seen such a bright line division in our own pretrial research. It all depends on the specific case and the way in which case narrative is framed and developed. We continually look to polls and surveys to give us guidance on the shifting attitudes and values in this country. In that vein, we have been tracking political perspective since we began working in the field of trial consulting but have been paying special attention to it since about 2006 and still cannot say we agree with dividing up Republicans and Democrats as conservatives and liberals.

In today’s article, political analyst Liliana Mason was quoted as saying that “individuals can hold somewhat moderate positions on may issues and yet be strong partisans committed to keeping the other party out of office”.

These authors think the 2016 presidential elections will be a very important election when it comes to climate change and environmental issues. We tend to agree and while the divisiveness in the country is disturbing, from a litigation advocacy perspective, the stark polarization among US citizens offers us a unique opportunity to test variables researchers identify as polarizing to see if they are related to eventual verdict decisions in pretrial research. So stay tuned.

Dunlap, R., McCright, A., & Yarosh, J. (2016). The Political Divide on Climate Change: Partisan Polarization Widens in the U.S. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 58 (5), 4-23 DOI: 10.1080/00139157.2016.1208995

Full text accessible here: http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2016/September-October%202016/political_divide_full.html

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