Thursday, June 09, 2016

The political problem of climate change

It would be funny if it were not worrying, but this post at Real Climate shows how the American Right (and a large slab of ours) likes to "double down" when their beliefs on climate change are challenged:
My study asked the question: “how do Republican individuals perceive persuasive information on climate change action, and what types of information are more or less effective?” To answer this question, I conducted a survey experiment wherein respondents in the treatment conditions were asked to read a paragraph about climate change. Each paragraph linked climate change to a prominent concept in American politics (either free markets, national security, poverty alleviation, or natural disaster preparation), attributed the message to a fictional but realistic-sounding source (either a Republican former Congressman or Democrat), and ended with a call for public action on the issue. These passages were rigorously pretested to ensure realism and impact.

The experiment, conducted in March 2014, used a nationally representative sample of 478 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, who were randomly sorted into one of the eight treatment groups or the control group, where respondents were asked in a single sentence to consider climate change as a political issue. Afterwards, all respondents were asked a series of questions to assess their support for or opposition to governmental action against climate change, their likelihood of taking personal action on the issue, and how sure they felt about their climate change opinions.

What I found was that every single treatment condition failed to convince respondents. In fact, treating Republicans with persuasive information made them more resistant to climate action regardless of the content or sourcing of that information. Overall, simply being exposed to pro-climate action communication appeared to polarize Republicans even further; they became more opposed to governmental action and less likely to take personal action compared to the control group. They also became more certain of their negative opinions on the issue, displaying significantly lower attitudinal ambivalence compared to the control group. What’s more, all of these treatment effects doubled to tripled in size for respondents who reported high personal interest in politics, all statistically significant outcomes. These highly politically interested individuals make up roughly one-third of Republicans in the sample and in the United States.
 If you ask me, a large part of the problem is due to Republican leadership:   if you had the leaders of the party actually prepared to tell their supporters that, sorry, they are wrong on this, in the same way that anti-vaxxers are wrong and hold beliefs supported by only a handful of contrarians whose policy views are against the public interest, you may start to get some marginalisation of the denialists at least underway.  Who is going to be the first high profile Republican leader to take such a position?

It's the current leadership, pandering to their nutty support base, that prevents any movement.  But why should I expect any different?   It is a party full of people ideologically devoted to cutting taxes, no matter what the circumstances, as the economic cure all, listening to just one set of evidence resistant economists. 

When will the Party come back to its senses?

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