Experts in the scientific community may overwhelmingly agree on the existence and factors causing climate change, but a new analysis suggests that most Americans aren’t swayed by scientific knowledge on the issue.
In fact, a Pew Research Center analysis published Wednesday found that people’s level of science knowledge actually had less to do with their opinions on climate change than something else: how they vote.
The analysis, based off a Pew survey conducted last year, suggested that a person’s political preferences were more likely to indicate whether or not they viewed climate change as an environmental threat and how they felt about different sources of energy. The survey measured how much respondents knew about science based on their answers to an index of nine questions and found that adults’ knowledge of science — ranked from low to high — was also more likely to impact climate change views among Democrats than among Republicans.
For example, when surveying respondents on how much harm climate change might cause to the weather and environment, more than 70 percent of Democrats with high science knowledge were likely to agree with the statement that storms would get worse or that droughts would intensify, as opposed to about 35 percent of Democrats with lower levels of science knowledge.
But Republicans with high science knowledge were much less likely to deviate from other Republicans’ views, regardless of their knowledge level. Less than 30 percent of those respondents were likely to agree with a statement that climate change would make droughts worsen, and in the case of the possible harm posed by storm disasters, Republicans with a high level of science knowledge were less likely to say storms would be worse with climate change than those Republicans with low science knowledge.
That trend also held when it came to one of the core questions about climate change — whether humans are responsible. Though the scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that climate change can be traced back to human activity, Democrats varied from 93 percent of those with high science knowledge agreeing to 49 percent of Democrats with low science knowledge saying the same.
Among Republicans, there was no such difference: Republicans with a high level of science knowledge were just as likely to agree with the statement that climate change was caused by humans as those with lower levels of science knowledge, suggesting it had no effect.
When asked about their support for different sources of energy, Democrats were also much less likely to support oil and gas drilling offshore compared to Republicans. On issues like fracking or coal mining, Democrats with a high level of science knowledge were almost universally opposed.
It’s not just partisanship that can affect people’s beliefs in climate change or energy — some studies suggest that a person’s local weather can also influence whether or not they believe the world’s weather conditions are changing, and that teachers’ beliefs about science change can also be a predictor for whether or not their students believe the same.