The disinformers are winning, but mostly with the GOP

New Gallup poll shows sharp partisan divide in understanding of climate change

The partisan divide on climate science has been growing for a while, as I discussed in a 2008 review of the Gallup polling. No surprise, really, since the anti-science disinformation campaign uses “experts” that are more credible to conservatives, and that disinformation is repeated to death on conservative media outlets.

Now Gallup has updated its polling and just now released its own analysis, “Conservatives’ Doubts About Global Warming Grow,” with this fascinating ideological breakdown that shows how the divide has grown in the past 2 years:

Josh Nelson at Enviroknow explains further:

Newly released Gallup polling seems to show a sharp drop in the percentage of Americans who know about, are concerned about and understand the threat of global warming.

The piece leads with a graph showing a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who think the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated:

When I saw this I immediately assumed the increase was due to the changing opinions of Republicans, and did not reflect a general trend within the broader population. As Joseph Romm has demonstrated, the GOP’s understanding of climate science has been on a steady decline for years. More evidence of this here and here.

See also my February 2009 post on Rasmussen’s polling, “Disinformers are still mostly duping only GOP voters.” I would also note that in recent years, many voters have shifted identification from GOP to independent, which has made both groups relatively more conservative.


I do think there are other factors at play — 2008 and 2009 were not unusually warm years in North America, many progressives and enviros have been convinced by dubious polling analysis to downplay talk of climate science, the media has gone back to a he-said, she-said formulation that gives equal time to the most fringe contrarian views, and so on. I’ll discuss these more below.

In the piece, Gallup notes that “evidence from last year showed that the issue of global warming was becoming heavily partisan in nature, and it may be that the continuing doubts about global warming put forth by conservatives and others are having an effect.” I’ll say.

Gallup has provided EnviroKnow with the full cross-tabs, which are available below. To illustrate the fact that the shifts shown in the poll are largely partisan in nature, I’ve produced a series of graphs based on the cross-tabs.

Objectively, in the last two years, the science makes painfully clear that climate risk has grown sharply, far beyond what 99% of people I talk to realize, even highly informed people:

See also this new RealClimate post, “Sealevelgate.”

That means if the public has come to the reverse view, it must be due to the messaging and the media and the misinformers. Certainly the messaging has not merely been poor, but many progressives and environmentalists have actually been persuaded to downplay or stop talking about climate science and global warming entirely in recent years (see Messaging 101b: EcoAmerica’s phrase ‘our deteriorating atmosphere’ isn’t going to replace ‘global warming’ “” and that’s a good thing).


The conservative disinformers, however, have kept pushing hard on the “global warming is exaggerated” meme, abetted by see-no-evil editors (see “The day DC journalism died: Washington Post is staffed with people who found ZERO mistakes in George Will’s error-filled denial column” and “John Tierney makes up stuff, just like George Will “” does the New York Times also employ several know/do-nothing fact checkers?”). As EnviroKnow puts it:

Reasonable people can disagree on policy solutions for dealing with problems we face as a society. But the Republican party is playing a different game entirely. Republicans and conservative thought-leaders “” at the behest of the corporate polluters who bankroll their campaigns “” have made a conscious decision to deny the science in order to advance their political agenda. Put simply, they seem to think they are entitled to their own facts. Unfortunately for them, and ultimately for the rest of us as well, physics doesn’t give a damn about politics.

Even (semi)serious former Republican leaders on climate like Sen. John McCain and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, have been walking away from the issue and even “smart” new candidates are forced to play dumb: Asked about whether he agrees with scientists that humans are changing the climate, GOP candidate for MA governor says, “I absolutely am not smart enough to believe I know the answer to that question.’’

And of course many in the media figure they “did” catastrophic global warming in 2006 and 2007, so of course that ain’t news any more. And the media keeps downplaying or omitting the link between extreme weather occuring now and global warming (see CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story “” never mention climate change and my entire media category).

And of course the media tends to ignore climate impacts (i.e. the cost of inaction) when it discusses climate economics, while rarely failing to report the wild overestimations of the cost of action by conservatives and fossil fuel companies “” thus again leaving the public with impression that the danger of global warming is being oversold (see Must-read study: How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics “” “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress”).

And the media has more recently been “Exaggerating Denialism,” using the stolen emails and some trivial mistakes by the IPCC to give voice to the most extreme disinformer views with unbalanced climate coverage.


Now throw in a 2008 and 2009 were not unusually warm years in the U.S. — a cold summer in much of the country and a much over-hyped cold spell this winter that fits the disinformer-spun and media-pushed myth of global cooling — and you have the perfect storm in this country for these kind of poll numbers.

Finally, the public sees that we aren’t taking action. And that would appear to be prima facie evidence to them that this is not a serious problem. It is awful hard to convince people a problem is serious when nobody is doing anything about it.

Polls, however, don’t change the scientific realities. This is still likely to be the hottest year on record and the evidence for human-caused warming is just going to get stronger and stronger. Also, scientists and others have finally figured out we are in a street fight, so maybe their messaging will improve. Thus, these poll numbers strike me as likelier to get better than worse, especially for Democrats and independents. Another good piece of news is that young people seem to be more impervious to disinformation:

Unfortunately, conservatives and conservative-leaning independents are only likely to be significantly moved once their leaders and their media outlets start reporting the science, rather than the disinformation. Until that happens, the partisan divide on climate change will not be bridged.