Political Affiliation Affects How People Perceive Extreme Weather
Weather events like unseasonably warm days or epic snowstorms should be a convincing argument for climate change. But according to a new study in Nature Climate Change, how people perceive the weather has a lot to do with their political beliefs. Respondents were polled in March 2012, just after an unusually warm winter. As outlined in this Washington Post article, those with liberal leanings were more likely to view temperatures as “warmer than usual.”
Dr. Riley Dunlap, Professor of Sociology at Oklahoma State University and one of the study’s authors, says these findings suggest that “people have begun to filter their fundamental perceptions of what is going on at least partly through a partisan frame.”
Dr. Dunlap has served on ecoAmerica’s steering committee and was elected a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, one of our research partners. The report that ecoAmerica produced earlier this year with the APA, Beyond Storms & Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change, also found that people interpret incoming information based on their existing beliefs. To engage people who don’t think weather events are tied to climate change, it’s important not to blame any specific event, but instead describe how long-term weather trends are being affected.
Belief in climate change is also a package deal: often just one argument isn’t enough. People may not be moved by the weather-climate connection alone, but if they’re aware of other impacts as well, such as the link between climate change and health, they may be motivated to change their thinking.
For more psychographic, demographic, and communication insights, visit our research page.
Chris Mooney, Contributor to the Washington Post
Last week, as extreme and early winter weather crashed into the continental U.S., it was inevitable that we once again started debating global warming. For some conservatives, unusual winter weather seems to spur dismissive comments about climate change – even as liberals tend to explain why a changing climate may see more “stuck” weather (whether cold or hot) and more powerful snowstorms in some cases, due to greater water vapor in the atmosphere.
Such partisan disagreement about the relationship between climate change and weather extremes has become pretty routine — but a new study just out in Nature Climate Change puts it in a fascinating new light. The research suggests the climate issue may have become so politicized that our very perceptions of the weather itself are subtly slanted by political identities and cues.
Image credit: AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Sharon Cantillon