Public opinion on climate change driven by political cues rather than economics

A new paper in Environmental Politics challenges the long-standing assumption that public opinion on the importance of environmental issues decreases in response to economic downturns.

U.S. public beliefs and attitudes about the importance of global warming notably declined during the years often called the “Great Recession,” with one study showing a decrease from about 71% in 2008, to 57% in 2010. However, a recent study of 1,043 individuals conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found no association between declines in local economic conditions and individual climate beliefs or support for climate policies. The study’s authors suggest that the change in U.S. climate change opinions observed during the Great Recession is better explained by other factors, namely shifting cues from political leaders and elites.

For example, the study demonstrated a strong correlation between changes in the environmental voting record of a survey respondent’s congressional representative and the shift in a respondent’s climate beliefs and attitudes from 2008-2011. As such, the study’s authors argue that “public opinion on climate change is very sensitive to changes in the Republican and Democratic party platforms and politicians’ talking points.”

Resources:

  • The full article is available here to those with a subscription to Environmental Politics. If you would like to request a copy, please send an email to climatechange@yale.edu with the Subject Line: Request Environmental Politics Paper.
  • The news article from the Yale Study on Climate Change Communication is available here.