On many science and environmental issues, a new study says Republicans and Tea Party supporters stand farther apart than Republicans and Independents. In particular, members of the Tea Party are less likely than the rest of the GOP to accept human evolution and trust scientists for information on climate change.
The research, published in the journal Environmental Politics, looks at a selection of surveys that have been conducted over the last four years in New Hampshire. The questions covered a variety of issues touching upon personal beliefs and factual knowledge, including the age of the Earth, whether glaciers were shrinking or growing in size, the importance of conserving natural resources and whether human activities release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than volcanoes.
After the researchers broke down the results of the surveys according to political party identification (chart above), some patterns stood out:
Regarding climate change, Tea Party supporters less often believe that it is happening now and is caused mainly by human activities (23%) or that most scientists agree on this point (24%). Perhaps as a consequence of those beliefs, they are less likely to know or accept change-related climate facts. Only 45% know that atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing, 51% know that late-summer Arctic sea ice area over the past few years is lower than 30 years ago, 48% know most of the observed glaciers are shrinking, and 26% know that humans in recent years have emitted much more CO2 than volcanoes.
After these climate-knowledge results, the last chart [above] is striking: Tea Party supporters express more confidence (83%) than non–Tea Party Republicans (70%) or Independents (75%) that they understand a moderate amount or a great deal about climate change. Higher confidence combined with lower recognition of basic science facts reflects understanding shaped by political outlook.
The study also examined the educational background of those in the surveys. Interestingly, the Tea Party is the one group whose belief in anthropogenic climate change declines as their level of education increases.
One common perception of Tea Party supporters is that they tend to deny climate change because of their inherent distrust of scientists. But Lawrence Hamilton, one of the study's authors, believes the reverse is true. "My thinking is that if you don't like a solution, you're going to reject that the problem exists," he says, "and in this case, that means finding reasons not to trust the scientists on the topic."