Party Identification, Values, Risk Perceptions and Public Opinion on Climate Change

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Sohlberg, Jacob
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While the scientific debate over climate change has been settled, the U.S. public is profoundly divided. Some people view climate change as a huge problem that needs to be resolved, whereas others dismiss it as non-issue. It is vital that we understand what is driving attitudes on this issue since climate change is likely to alter our world in multiple, mostly negative, ways. In this dissertation, I rely on experiments, surveys and content analysis to examine the relative merits of two broad perspectives on what is driving public opinion on climate change. One perspective centers on the role of party elite cues. When party leaders take positions on issues, such as on climate change, they simplify complex information so that ordinary Republicans and Democrats only need to follow their party leaders. The other perspective, the value perspective, is based on the central role of values in shaping political attitudes. Climate change is a multifaceted problem and it can be described as a threat towards multiple values. By experimentally infusing messages with different values, I examine if those who adhere to the target values also react the strongest. The key dependent variables in the studies are climate change policies and risk perceptions. Risks perceptions are important since they influence support for policies. The results show strong support for the party cue perspective, yet only cautious support for the value perspective. A content analysis of news articles published by The New York Times and The Associated Press show that Republican Party leaders are against climate change policies whereas Democratic leaders support them. When party leaders diverge like this, it should lead to a larger gap in the support for climate change policies between the more politically aware Republican and Democratic identifiers compared to the less aware partisans. This is exactly what I find. Moreover, when I experimentally alter party cues, those who identify as Republicans are more persuaded by Republican leaders than by Democratic elites. Democratic leaders, in contrast, are more effective at persuading Democratic identifiers.
273 pg.
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
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