Global warming as a partisan issue

by Henry Farrell on August 27, 2007

One bit of the Snyder, Shapiro and Bloch-Elkon “paper”: that I linked to last week was overshadowed by the discussion of the Iraq war. They report survey evidence saying that:

Since September 11, there is not only a wider gap between Republicans and Democrats across a broad range of foreign policy issues, but their views have moved in opposite directions in response to new information. In 1998, 31 percent of Republicans believed that the planet was warming, but by 2006
only 26% did, whereas Democrats increased from 39 to 46% and Independents from 31 to 45%.1

To my mind this suggests2 some interesting connections between new information, the dynamics of opinion change and partisanship. This same period saw an unmistakable convergence of scientific opinion, as many scientists who had previously been agnostic or skeptical came to accept mounting evidence that climate change was occurring. It also saw a clear convergence between Democratic voters and independents. But Republicans, if anything, would appear to have become _less_ likely to believe strongly that climate change was happening during the same period. Either they weren’t getting the same information as scientists, Democrats and independents, or they were interpreting this information in different ways. My best guess (and I am not a public opinion specialist by any stretch of the imagination) is that two things are going on here. First, some Republicans _are_ being exposed to different information than other voters, through talk radio, targeted mailings, frothing-at-the-mouth blogs and other media. Second, even those Republicans who _aren’t_ (or who are only minimally exposed to this information) are increasingly coming to treat global warming as a partisan issue, where conceding that it is happening is in some sense giving ground to ‘the other side.’

1 A summary of the poll evidence is available in PDF form “here”:

2 The one proviso I have here, is that the summary only reports differences over whether Republicans, Democrats and Independents are ‘sure’ that global warming is happening. They don’t report differences over whether people with different partisan alignments think that global warming is ‘probably’ happening. If there aren’t major differences in the ‘probably happening’ figures, then obviously there is much less going on here.