The conditional effect of conspiracy thinking on attitudes toward climate change

Uscinski, Joseph E.; Olivella, Santiago
Research & Politics

Even though climate scientists are nearly unanimous that climate change is real and manmade, about 40% of Americans reject the scientific consensus. Why? The largest contributing factor is partisanship; however, recent studies argue that underlying conspiracy thinking exerts a positive, linear effect on climate change denial. In this article, we reexamine the effect of conspiracy thinking on climate change attitudes by accounting for the various pathways that conspiracy thinking could drive denialism in a politically polarized environment. We find the effects of conspiracy thinking on climate change denial are not only larger than previously suggested, but also non-monotonic and conditional on individuals’ party identification. Moreover, we find evidence suggesting conspiracy thinking affects independents’ positions, and even their partisan leanings. These findings further explain why people reject the scientific consensus on climate change, and suggest that climate change denial is not merely the product of partisan polarization.