Elite Domination of Public Doubts About Climate Change (Not Evolution): Political Communication: Vol 35, No 2

Tesler, Michael

This article examines the sources of ideological skepticism about two issues where there is a scientific consensus: climate change and evolution. The results indicate that self-identified conservatives doubt global warming in large part because of elite rhetoric, but that evolution beliefs are unrelated to reception of political discourse. News reception is perhaps the strongest predictor of conservatives’ climate change skepticism, but has no influence on their aversion to evolution. Moreover, the article leverages three sources of variation in elite discourse on climate change—temporal, cross-national, and experimental—to show that changes in the prevalence of ideological cues strongly affect public opinion about global warming. Politically attentive conservatives, in fact, were more likely to believe scientists about global warming than liberals were in the 1990s before the media depicted climate change as a partisan issue. The United States is also the only nation where political interest significantly predicts both conservatives’ skepticism about, and liberals’ belief in, climate change. Finally, evidence from a national survey experiment suggests that Americans would be less skeptical of manmade global warming if more Republicans in Congress believed in it, but a growing Congressional consensus about evolution would not diminish doubts about its existence.