Credit: Six Americas Study: Yale University

Do you wonder if people’s opinion of climate change relates to their political belief? Or if they believe that anthropogenic climate change is occurring? Or if they support climate change-oriented policies? Dr. Brian Shreck and Dr. Arnold Vedlitz decided to find out as they collaborated on a study that was published earlier this year in the International Journal Society & Natural Resources. The study is titled, The Public and its Climate: Exploring the Relationship Between Public Discourse and Opinion on Global Warming. Dr. Shreck is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Political Science and the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech, and a fellow in the Institute for Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Texas A&M, which designed and funded the survey used in this study. His research looks at how the public understands and interacts with scientific information, how they discuss environmental problems, such as energy, water, and climate change, and how that influences formation and change of policy preferences at the mass level.

The purpose of this study was to use data from a national public opinion survey to analyze relationships between people’s “engagement in public discourse on climate change and their beliefs about the existence of anthropogenic climate change and support for climate change-oriented policies” (Shreck, Vedlitz). The nationwide survey used in this study was administered by Gfk Custom Research, LLC, and it targeted adults over 18 years of age.

They tested three hypotheses on public discourse and its correlation to climate change. Hypothesis 1a: Engagement in public discourse will be positively related to strength of opinion on the existence of anthropogenic climate change. Hypothesis 1b: Engagement in public discourse will be positively related to strength of opinion on climate change-oriented policies. Hypothesis 2: Higher level of public discourse engagement will be associated with breaking with the beliefs and opinions associated with one’s political party.

The data in the study suggest that engagement in public discourse on climate change is associated with strong belief in the existence of anthropogenic climate change, but not significantly associated with strong belief against it. However, the data showed that engaging in higher amounts of public discourse on climate change was associated with having strong opinions both in support of and opposition to climate change-oriented policies, such as taxes on industry practices that contribute to climate change. Basically, their results suggest that people who feel the strongest about this topic (regardless of which political side they’re on) discuss the topic more than people who don’t feel as strongly about the issue of climate change. However, the study found that, within the survey sample, individuals who broke with the predominant beliefs of their self-identified political party (i.e., Republicans who supported climate change-oriented policies and Democrats who opposed them) reported slightly higher levels of engagement in public discourse on climate change. This would suggest that there might be some “cross-cutting” dialogue occurring. However, this result did not reach statistical significance, so more research is needed in the future to evaluate it.

In conclusion, this study helped Shreck and Vedlitz understand how Americans participate in public discourse on climate change. This is very important because the topic of climate change has become a very polarized issue, especially in the United States. The more polarized the issue becomes, the harder it becomes to implement climate change-oriented policies.

If you would like to read the full by Dr. Brian Shreck and Dr. Arnold Vedlitz then click here.

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Online – Avalanche Journal and was produced by TTU Climate Science Center, written by Dr. Brian Shreck, Breanna Allen, and Aaron Flores.

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