Education, politics and opinions about climate change evidence for interaction effects
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- Hamilton, L.C. Climatic Change (2011) 104: 231. doi:10.1007/s10584-010-9957-8
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U.S. public opinion regarding climate change has become increasingly polarized in recent years, as partisan think tanks and others worked to recast an originally scientific topic into a political wedge issue. Nominally “scientific” arguments against taking anthropogenic climate change seriously have been publicized to reach informed but ideologically receptive audiences. Reflecting the success of such arguments, polls have noted that concern about climate change increased with education among Democrats, but decreased with education among Republicans. These observations lead to the hypothesis that there exist interaction (non-additive) effects between education or knowledge and political orientation, net of other background factors, in predicting public concern about climate change. Two regional telephone surveys, conducted in New Hampshire (n = 541) and Michigan (n = 1, 008) in 2008, included identical climate-change questions that provide opportunities to test this hypothesis. Multivariate analysis of both surveys finds significant interactions. These empirical results fit with theoretical interpretations and several other recent studies. They suggest that the classically identified social bases of concern about the environment in general, and climate in particular, have shifted in recent years. Narrowcast media, including the many Web sites devoted to discrediting climate-change concerns, provide ideal conduits for channeling contrarian arguments to an audience predisposed to believe and electronically spread them further. Active-response Web sites by climate scientists could prove critical to counterbalancing contrarian arguments.