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The role of political skepticism, reactance, and partisan bias in shaping attitudes on climate change in the United States Campbell, Timothy

Abstract

This thesis considers the relationship between three psychological traits – political skepticism, reactance, and partisan bias – and public opinion about climate change in the United States. Drawing on the results of a large national survey of American adults, I find that political skepticism (defined as “distrust of the claims made in policy debates and distrust of the evidence cited by participants in policy debates, regardless of the identity of the participants”) is the most important of the three psychological measures in shaping attitudes on climate change as well as Americans’ news consumption habits. Regression analysis was used to identify political and demographic correlates of political skepticism, reactance, and partisan bias, as well as correlations between each trait and respondents’ news consumption habits and their attitudes on four questions related to climate change. Politically-skeptical respondents are significantly less likely to think that global warming is happening, that such warming is caused by human activity, that it represents a serious problem, or that a carbon tax should be introduced to address the issue. In addition, more politically-skeptical respondents also tend to be older and more likely to identify as Republicans and conservatives, as well as less likely to report getting news from each of a wide range of news sources included in the survey. I conclude by highlighting the importance of political skepticism and offering suggestions for future research into the role that such skepticism may play in American politics more generally.

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