- The new survey data (from G1)
The first task is to register this data against what we’ve seen before, given that ‘what is said in the news’ about global warming is rather fuzzy, as are other terms. For instance opting for ‘exaggerated’ doesn’t necessarily mean a disbelief in MMGW, although likely means a disbelief in calamitous narrative. And having some college education is a superset characteristic that won’t always mean being science aware. However we are chiefly looking for polarization here, which distances us rather from absolute meanings, and both the Republican and Democrat responses show a strong correspondence to previous findings; the enhanced polarization that Kahan reports for the science aware is clearly reflected for the higher educated, albeit not quite to the same extreme. More education for the Republicans leads to more skepticism, more education for Democrats leads to more belief in MMGW and more belief in dangerous scenarios, in this case a belief that (on average) the news underestimates the seriousness.
So far so good, this is what both Kahan’s model and mine expects. And performing a common sense comparison of the RH column, ‘generally underestimated’, with those who place global warming as a top priority (by political stripe) in this Pew survey cited in the previous post, yields a pretty fair fit that helps orientate us in belief space. (RH column average after rough college attendance profile per wiki ~ R17, I31, D45, Pew ~ R14, I27, D42). Hence we can go on to examine the responses of the Independents with relative confidence, including the attitudes of higher educated Independents, which is the element that I couldn’t find before.
- What the higher educated Independents tell us
The attitudes of the Independents also change significantly with education. Overall the effects move in the same direction as for the Republicans, i.e. those with more than high school education are more skeptical. On average 23% more in the ‘exaggerated’ column, and 16% less in the ‘underestimated’ column. I think this modest yet clear movement is a major challenge for the theory of ‘knowing disbelief’, which theory (see the previous post or the Appendix) hinges upon powerful identity defense to explain the very same movement for the Rep/Cons, i.e. a tribal allegiance to the Republican party and conservative principles. But from section 2 we see that these individuals are more flexible or split on principles, and that partisan politics (from Republicans and from Democrats) does not turn them on. They do not actually have a Republican identity to defend!
I can only assume what Kahan would predict for higher educated Independents. Given that they’re the least partisan of all voters and so the least blinded by party loyalty, one would think that their education would guide them more towards the truth. But they certainly do not move towards the ‘truth’ that Kahan has pinned the pole of the science aware Dem/Libs to. They move towards skepticism, i.e. in the opposite direction.
What does the theory of climate culture predict? Given the symmetry of the Independents as noted in section 2, a plausible start is to assume this same symmetry on the particular issue of climate change. I.e. the Independents are formed from two approximately equal populations, one adopting similar attitudes to the Democrats and the other adopting similar attitudes to the Republicans (assuming that on average the ‘centrists’ fall 50:50). So the ‘High school or less’ row for instance, should be about an average of the Dem and Rep rows for this same category, which comes out at GE42, GC23, and GU32. That’s pretty close, it seems a reasonable assumption. But the key test for ‘climate culture’ is a prediction that higher educated Independents will be led into a path of either climate orthodox comprehension or skeptic comprehension depending upon their initial leaning, in exactly the same manner (so the same strength / proportion of attitudes) as for the Reps and Dems. Hence the same simple average should hold for the higher educated Independents too. For instance in the graduate category, this yields GE45, GC25, GU30, once again a good match.
Now this result may seem intuitive to some readers, perhaps even blindingly obvious. Yet if one follows Kahan’s ‘knowing disbelief’ theory it should be completely counter-intuitive. For a survey like this with a centre position, in the absence of both higher education (including science literacy) and any strong party loyalty, there ought to be clustering within that centre, because in Kahan’s model there is no other strong influence here that would cause polarization or indeed any main departure from a centrist view. Yet the centre is lowest in all of the Independent rows; these shallow ‘V’ shapes should be inverted, which would completely break my match of Independents with simple Rep/Dem averages. And where there is higher education in this non-partisan population, as noted above Kahan’s model would surely predict a strong movement towards climate orthodoxy. (Note: the only way Kahan could similarly claim a blended effect from two populations is if each were as just as powerfully partisan as the Reps and Dems, yet we know this is not at all the case. In my own model the combined effect is via biased assimilation from a modest starting stance, with one population led much more into climate culture, the other led away).
This data from the Independents adds to the evidence that attitudes on climate change in the US are not primarily a simple reflection of partisan Republican or Democrat identity. (Note: the text with the G1 poll itself does not concentrate on the Independents. While correctly noting that education for the Republicans ‘leads them in a different direction’ to Democrats, it incorrectly draws the conclusion that the dominant effect overall must therefore be ‘partisanship’).
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