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.