Research News

Knowledge Polarizes Global Warming Debate Among Liberals and Conservatives

Study highlights challenges posed by politicization of science and for achieving policy-action consensus

Few political debates have attracted as much attention as the ones surrounding global warming. Existing work has identified numerous factors that shape citizens’ beliefs on this issue, yet few studies compare the views of the public with other key actors in the policymaking process. In their working paper, the researchers draw on data from simultaneous and parallel surveys of the U.S. public, scientists who actively publish research on energy technologies in the United States, and congressional policy advisors. They find that beliefs about global warming diverge markedly in comparing the views of the public, scientists, and policy advisors. Scientists and policy advisors are more likely than the public to express a belief in the existence and anthropogenic [human-induced] nature of global warming; however, similar to the public, policy advisors—and to a lesser degree scientists—are ideologically polarized over global warming.

Below is a figure from their working paper charting the relationship between liberal and conservative citizens’ levels of factual knowledge and their beliefs in the existence of global warming.  


Click on the image below to see a larger version of the infographic.


James Druckman is Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and an IPR fellow. Fay Lomax Cook is professor of human development and social policy (on leave), an IPR fellow, and assistant director and head of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation. Toby Bolsen is assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University and a former IPR graduate student research assistant. For more information, read the IPR working paper, "Citizens', Scientists', and Policy Advisors' Beliefs About Global Warming" (WP-14-17).