Framing Science

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Gallup’s annual Earth Day survey of public attitudes on the environment is out today, and the results are consistent with the patterns revealed across other surveys this year. In short, while 2006 featured a historic high in media attention to global warming and Al Gore scored publicity success with Inconvenient Truth, there still exists a “Two Americas” of public perceptions when it comes to the urgency of global warming.

As I have detailed here many times (1,2,3), the “Pandora’s Box” frame of looming climate crisis continues to activate Democrats on the issue, but the powerful perceptual screen of partisanship drowns out the issue for the overwhelming majority of Republicans. As a key indicator, see the graph above. Worry about the issue among Dems climbed even higher over the past year to a record high of 85%, while Republicans remain unaffected at 46%.


  1. #1 Benjamin Franz
    March 21, 2007

    ‘Unchanged’ over the last year – and down 18% since 2000. IOW, among Republicans, not only are they ‘not worried’, they have become substantially less worried even as the scientific evidence has become ever more certain.

    I suppose I should be happy that at least it is up 14% from the worst levels of 2004.

    I doubt it is coincidence that the Bush administration has spent the last 7 years playing down global warming. You can see the graph start its downward trend with Republicans just as soon as Bush took office.

  2. #2 Gerard Harbison
    March 21, 2007

    Partisanship motivates the GOP, but not the Dems?

    Hmmm. Yes, partisanship is indeed a pernicious problem.

  3. #3 daniel thomas macinnes
    March 21, 2007

    You can’t be surprised by this. One line shows the evolution of people who think for themselves. The other shows the stagnation of the Big Brother slave class. It’s a segment of people that simply do not want to think for themselves, and prefer an authoritarian figure to tell them what to think.

    One person is actually capable of reading and thinking on their own. The other requires Limbaugh or Fox News to tell them what to think, who to fear. We are at war with Eurasia, we are at war with Eastasia. I don’t know how much we can change this. As long as significant numbers of Americans prove incabable of thinking for themselves, becoming the “Good Germans” that blindly obey The Party, this gap will never be closed.

  4. #4 Lee50
    March 21, 2007

    Of course you would have decreasing support from Republicans. The entire approach of the global warming movement is almost guaranteed to turn them off. It doesn’t even resemble an attempt to save mankind. It’s just another stick to beat the opposition over the head with. Don’t agree with some of the science? You are stupid and evil. Are you a real scientist with contradictory evidence? You’re on the payroll of Exxon. You want to debate the science? The debate is closed, a consensus has been reached. Despite your hysteria, you propose no substantive legislation, just a vague path of economy wrecking higher taxes and more regulation. If the left really thought matters were as serious as their hype they would propose legislation that would immediately ban Nascar and the ownership of private jets. If they were serious they wouldn’t take an approach that would scare off or piss off half the electorate.

  5. #5 Gerard Harbison
    March 21, 2007

    Here’s a far better explanation. In 2007, there are considerably fewer people self-identifying as Republicans than there were in 2000. The ‘soft-GOP’ who identified as Republican in 2000 but not in 2007 are more likely to be convinced of the reality of global warming. The remaining irredentist Republicans always were global-warming deniers, and haven’t changed. The graph is really showing an erosion of GOP support, not a change of heart among Republicans.

    As a conservative who thinks anthropogenic global warming is a serious problem, I agree with Lee50. As long as you have carbon hogs like Gore and the Hollywood left who preach one thing and practice another, using paper transactions to disguise the fact they don’t want to make the lifestyle changes that they’re happy to prescribe for everyone else, a lot of Americans are going to remain skeptical.

  6. #6 rfguy
    March 21, 2007

    If the left really thought matters were as serious as their hype they would propose legislation that would immediately ban Nascar and the ownership of private jets. If they were serious they wouldn’t take an approach that would scare off or piss off half the electorate.

    Lee50, how do you you reconcile those two sentences? Do they not seem completely contradictory to you?

  7. #7 Dan S.
    March 22, 2007

    Harbison, what do you think Gore (it’s not really sure why you imagine the “Hollywood Left” is relevant here) is actually preaching? For example, what do you think his main recommendations are in terms of what individuals can do?

    And rfguy makes an excellent point. Of course, if Gore was living in a dimly-lit shack, communicating via pony express, and getting around on a bike (not at all what anyone recommends as a useful response) the response by the spinners would be ‘what a freak! look, the crazy environmentalist wants us to live in squalor!) If people want to be sensible, there is one question: what does the climate-science community think about anthropogenic global warming. That question’s been answered: it’s just that some folks don’t like that answer, and push stuff like “GORE HAS A GIANT HOUSE AND IS A BIG FAT (heh-heh) ENERGY HOG! HOLLYWOOD LEFT!” to influence others.

  8. #8 vm milano
    March 22, 2007

    The entire issue of global warming would be less of a controversy if Gore would not be the spokeperson. I am certain that there are much more qualified people to argue the vital points which he (Gore) tries to bring across to the public and to Congress. His Congressional appearance is preceived as being strictly political. Scientists are far better qualified and do not present a partisan bias. Gore image was dampened by the Hollywood fiasco at the Oscars; it became more of a message from secular progressive types.
    If science could prove any global warmings then they should be acknowledge and we could move forward. Gore connection to this issue was served, and now he must remove himself and have the intelligent people of science produce evidence. If this were a court of law, Gore would not be permitted to present his case.

  9. #9 SLC
    March 22, 2007

    Re Harbison

    Prof. Harbison has rather cavalierly accused former Vice President Gore of being a carbon hog. It would seem that, before leveling such a charge, Prof. Harbison should find out where Mr. Gores’ electricity is coming from. Since Mr. Gores’ house is in Tennessee, I suspect that there is a good chance that it comes from the TVA (yes I know, as a good conservative, Prof. Harbison undoubtedly is of the point of view that the communistic enterprise known as the TVA should be abolished immediately, if not sooner). If this is the case, then it is likely that a substantial percentage of it was generated by hydroelectric or nuclear power. Since the carbon impact of those two sources of electricity are extremely small, Mr. Gores’ carbon contribution would be reduced accordingly. In the extreme case if all of the said electricity was so generated, then Mr. Gores’ carbon contribution would be less then Prof. Harbisons’.

  10. #10 Gerard Harbison
    March 22, 2007

    TVA’s coal fired capacity is approximately 15.1 GW. It has an additional 4.7 GW of fossil-fuel turbine capacity. These sorts of generators are usually used to handle peak loads, so let’s say they were used 50% of the time. 17.3 GW is therefore a fair estimate of their fossil-fuel power generation. TVA’s nuclear capacity is 5.7 GW, and their hydro generation, averaged over last year, was around 1.1 GW. Fossil fuels therefore accounted for about 72% of their power generation.

    Al Gore uses about 20 times the power I do. Norris Public Power, from which I get my electricity (also publicly owned, BTW) gets its power from Nebraska Public Power District, which generates about 20% of its electrictiy from nuclear and about 3% from hydro. So Gore’s electricity, per kilowatt, is scarcely ‘greener’ than mine.

    All the TVA numbers are on TVA’s website. The question is, if I can look them up, why didn’t SLC, rather than waste all our time posting a fantasy?

  11. #11 Gerard Harbison
    March 22, 2007

    Well, I’d like to have commented, but evidently conservatives are to be attacked here, and not be given the right to respond. Figures.

  12. #12 Dale
    March 23, 2007

    So many straw men so little time to respond….
    1.) It makes no sense to suggest that Gore, a world leader, should necessarily use less or an equal amount of energy as the average man. Clearly, he engages and deals on a level that Joe sixpack does not.
    2.) The scientists have very clearly already weighed in on this issue, but no one will listen to a pipe smoking geek they have never head of, hence Gore becomes a spokesman and lightening rod for the cause.
    3.) “Hollywood fiasco”…..huh?
    4.) All of the supposed “counter arguments” seem to have one thing in common. They want to distract people from the real issue and try to make them focus on “Gore” as the issue. This would not be any different if it were being explained by Albert Einstein. The RW deniers would simply say he had a “grant” to study the problem and hence couldn’t be trusted to speak the truth, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

  13. #13 Adrian Clement
    March 23, 2007
  14. #14 Kris Shanks
    March 31, 2007

    I don’t see why Gore’s personal energy consumption has anything to do with whether global warming is a real threat or not. He’s a good showman, making a strong case for something he feels passionate about.

  15. #15 Wayne Christensen
    March 5, 2008

    Whether or not global warming is caused by human activity (and most scientists say it is), we should all be worried about it’s effects. Let’s all face this problem now instead of documenting our extinction.

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