Framing Science


I’ve noted in recent presentations and posts the strong role of partisanship in how Americans view the science and relative urgency of global warming. Yet according to a Pew survey released this week, the divide runs deeper and more complex.

Pew reports striking educational differences in partisans’ views of global warming. According to the survey analysis, among Republicans, higher education is linked to greater skepticism about global warming — fully 43% of Republicans with a college degree say that there is no evidence of global warming, compared with 24% of Republicans with less education. The disbelief in global warming among the GOP college-educated persists despite the fact that the international scientific body assessing causes of climate change is closing in on its strongest statement yet linking emissions from burning fossil fuels to rising global temperatures.

Among Democrats, the pattern is the reverse. Fully 75% of Democrats with college degrees say that there is solid evidence of global warming and that it is caused by human activities. This is far higher than among Democrats with less education among whom 52% say the same. Independents, regardless of education levels, fall in between these partisan extremes.

Why the striking partisan differences across education levels?

Education correlates strongly with news attention, while partisanship leads to selective acceptance of like-minded arguments and opinions. In a fragmented media system, college-educated Republicans are heavier consumers of media outlets and messages that are likely to reflect and reinforce their existing views about global warming. As additional heuristics, they are also more likely to hew closely to the signals given off by party leaders, notably President Bush. The same is true for college-educated Dems who pay close attention to news outlets that fit with their partisan orientation while relying on the messages and opinions of party leaders such as former VP Al Gore.

Non-college educated Republicans and Dems on the other hand pay far less attention to the news, and are far less in tune with the positions of their party leaders. As a result, they hold weaker opinions on the issue, and might be more susceptible to “cross-pressures” or counter-arguments emanating from the other side in the global warming debate.


  1. #1 csrster
    January 25, 2007

    Given that Bush now claims to believe in anthropogenic global warming, does that mean 77% of college-educated republicans think Bush is either wrong or lying?

  2. #2 dogscratcher
    January 25, 2007

    They just haven’t gotten up to speed with the party line.

  3. #3 achem
    January 26, 2007

    Is college graduate too general a catagory? Is there any study showing party affilation by major?

    Is this a split between business majors and scientists/philosophers?

  4. #4 vulcan_alex
    July 12, 2009

    Gee it might mean that some don’t just believe what the media wants them to, and actually questions authority. The data is not sufficient to prove that any warming is due mainly to CO2. Even if it was nothing that we can do will make significant impact for several hundred years. Cap and Trade does not work for CO2 so it should not be used in the US. Somethings should be done, but not to ruin our economy!!! Why not try several hundred new nuks??? After all the French have them!!!

  5. #5 John Pustaver
    November 4, 2009

    I think that the question asked in the survey is a problem. The question was “Is there solid evidence the earth is warming”? Who, other than a climatologist, can answer the question? Most of us are not experts on climate science.

    Some indication that the question posed was the wrong one is found in the responses to another question about the seriousness of global warming. 65% of all respondents said that global warming was a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem. 33% of those wha had responded “No” to the question as to whether there was “solid evidence of global warming” also thought that global warming was a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem.

    We may not be able to say that there is “solid evidence of global warming” but we might believe in the warnings of climate scientists.

    A better question would simply be “Do you believe that the earth is warming”? Or, “Do you believe that the earth is warming based on the research of climate scientists”.

    I don’t think that I’m splitting hairs. I think these questions need to be posed very carefully.

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