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Partisan Group Identity and Belief in Human-Caused Climate Change (WP-16-21)

Toby Bolsen and James Druckman

When individuals learn of the scientific consensus about human-caused climate change, do their opinions move in the direction of that consensus? Although a scientific consensus has existed for over a decade on this subject, the U.S. public is starkly divided along partisan group lines over whether human behavior is the dominant cause. The researchers develop a framework that generates hypotheses about the impact of a scientific consensus statement (concerning climate change) on public opinion. They test their predictions with a survey experiment conducted on a nationally representative sample in the U.S. They find that the impact of this information is conditional on partisan group identity and individuals’ knowledge levels. Low knowledge partisans shift their opinion toward the scientific consensus, while high knowledge partisans polarize. Further, when the consensus statement is “politicized,” the aforementioned effect on low knowledge partisans disappears. The findings accentuate the highly contingent nature of climate change communication effects.

Toby Bolsen, Associate Professor of Political Science, Georgia State University

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

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