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The great divide: understanding the role of media and other drivers of the partisan divide in public concern over climate change in the USA, 2001–2014


Recent scholarship has identified a large and growing divide on how Republicans and Democrats view the issue of climate change. A number of these studies have suggested that this polarization is a product of systematic efforts to spread doubt about the reality of climate change through the media in general and conservative media in particular. However, research to date has largely relied on speculation about such a relationship rather than empirical evidence. We improve on existing research by conducting an empirical analysis of the factors affecting national-level, quarterly shifts in public concern about climate change between January 2001 and December 2014. Our analysis focuses on the potential role played by four factors that should account for changes in levels of concern regarding climate change: (1) media coverage, (2) extreme weather, (3) issuance of major scientific reports, and (4) changes in economic activity and foreign conflict. Some results suggest that partisan media influences beliefs in ways expected by communication scholars who describe “echo chamber” effects and “boomerang” effects. Among other supporting evidence, we find that partisan media not only strengthen views of like-minded audiences but also when Republicans are presented with opposing frames about climate change from liberal media, they appear to reject the messages such that they are less concerned about the issue. Findings also demonstrate that the dissemination of science increases concern about climate change among Democrats but has no influence on Republicans. Finally, extreme weather does not increase concern among Democrats or Republicans. Implications for future research are discussed.

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Correspondence to Jason T. Carmichael.

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Carmichael, J.T., Brulle, R.J. & Huxster, J.K. The great divide: understanding the role of media and other drivers of the partisan divide in public concern over climate change in the USA, 2001–2014. Climatic Change 141, 599–612 (2017).

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  • Climate Change
  • Public Opinion
  • Political Party
  • Media Coverage
  • Public Concern