- The critical difference between models
Kahan’s model assumes the simple reflection above because it does not acknowledge a third influence in addition to Rep/Con and Dem/Lib influences. People’s attitudes are governed by a belief in, or cultural alliance with, or lack of belief in, climate culture itself. Their position on the left-right political axis is only a good indicator of where folks will likely sit on this issue, because en-masse the two main political parties in the US have either a largely supportive (Dems) or largely resistive (Reps) relationship with climate culture. So Kahan’s model is two way upon a left / right axis, and mine is three-way (i.e. Dem/Lib culture, Rep/Con culture, and climate culture) on a conceptual map like below, from the previous post:
This model also better explains edge cases that are difficult for Kahan’s model. For instance the minority of higher educated Democrats and Republicans (to a lesser extent this occurs for the science aware too) who are opposite to their respective party trends. While I guess this is not impossible to address within Kahan’s framework, it’s certainly a serious challenge to provide a robust and generic explanation, given that their political allegiance pulls in the opposite direction to their views about dangerous MMGW. Yet climate culture is a strong independent influence that in some folks will overwhelm any political stance; and likewise some who resist this strong culture can come from the political left as well as the right.
The view that Kahan and many others hold regarding attitudes to climate change in the US tends to boil everything down to a left / right tribal political influence, and this view masks what’s really going on. For instance that there are far more Democrats (‘the shifters’ above) who don’t believe the orthodox narrative of dangerous MMGW, than do. They are merely allied to this narrative for the sake of their identity and party, yet never place climate policies high on the agenda. In some surveys these shifters outnumber the full climate culture adherents who are also Democrats, by almost 2 to 1.
Kahan’s model is also challenged in countries outside the US where climate change has not become so mixed up with political identity. For example the UK, where all the main parties support policies to fight man-made climate change, yet nationally there is still significant skepticism. In the diagram above this is represented by shallower left-right lines, yet still a significant block at the bottom of the graph. In other words, the adherents climate culture has claimed are more evenly spread across the political spectrum than is the case for the US, as are those that resist the culture too. This is clearly a problem for a model that doesn’t acknowledge a climate culture in the first place, and essentially places ‘disbelief’ only at the door of right-wing identity defense; it doesn’t seem plausible that fundamentally different mechanisms are driving attitudes to climate change in the US than in the UK (or elsewhere).
The attitudes of non-partisan Americans shed light on an issue that is often perceived as chiefly partisan on the left / right political axis. Especially the subtle yet significant attitude shift for the higher educated Independents. These support the case that the true situation is more complex, and that a third cultural pole is involved.
If ‘knowing disbelief’ is why many millions of science aware Rep/Cons resist the narrative of dangerous MMGW much more even than Rep/Cons generally, a theory founded on a subconscious apprehension of danger plus potent identity defense of right-wing politics / principles, then apparently about half of higher educated Independents must suffer from this very same problem too. This is despite these least partisan of US voters not actually having a Rep/Con identity to defend in the first place. ‘Knowing disbelief’ is not a plausible explanation.
Caveats: One small survey doesn’t make a summer, and these are rough and ready figures to get an idea of what’s going on. Plus a difference effect between two populations of Independents is bound to be modest; it seems not much more than twice the natural slop in the figures (all Independent cells are at most 3 points from the Rep/Dem average bar the middle left, which seems a slightly high outlier). Nevertheless, this survey shows with relative confidence what is very unlikely to be going on. As noted in section 4 the Independents’ responses would have to be very different indeed to match Kahan’s model. A high quality survey of the science aware / climate science aware Independents would be of great value in exploring this angle further.
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