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Matthew C. Nowlin

Assistant professor of political science at the College of Charleston

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Cultural or Scientific Consensus? Cultural Cognition, Climate Science Knowledge, and Policy Preferences

This is a working draft, please do not cite without permission


Conference: Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 2016


Abstract: The disconnect between climate scientists and the public regarding climate change is well documented. Many have proposed that educating the public about climate science and/or the scientific consensus concerning climate change can be an effective measure to close the gap. Some evidence has suggested that those that know more about climate change or view a consensus among scientists are more supportive of policies to address climate change. However, other work has noted that views about scientific consensus are influenced by congruence with values based in cultural cognition. In addition, it is not clear that those in the public claiming to agree with the scientific consensus on climate change know the basis of scientific agreement. Using survey data from South Carolina’s eight coastal counties, this paper explores cultural cognition; knowledge regarding climate science and the scientific consensus; and support for policies to address climate change. We find that individualists are less likely to believe a scientific consensus exists, however cultural cognition is note predictive of climate science knowledge. In addition, knowledge of the scientific consensus is not related to climate science knowledge. We also find that policy preferences are related to beliefs about the consensus, not climate science knowledge. Finally, increased development of renewable energy, followed by geo-engineering had the highest average support and were less polarized than other policy options. We conclude with a discussion of shifting the focus from climate change knowledge to climate change solutions that are amiable to multiple cultural orientations.


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