Saturday, March 12, 2011

I gotcher American Exceptionalism right here

Over on Monkey Cage, there's a short series posts on attitudes about AGW and evolution, separated by political self-identification.

The gist: the more education self-identified liberals have, the more likely they are to accept the scientific consensus on AGW. The more education self-identified conservatives have, the more likely they are to deny it.

The US is unique in this regard among all countries surveyed.

On evolution: more education among libs = much more likely to believe the theory of evolution. Among cons, not so much.

(h/t: DougJ | x-posted)


Don McArthur said...

I think this has more to do with establishing and maintaining a shibboleth than any actual strongly held beliefs. In effect, paying the price of a bit of cognitive dissonance in order to strengthen your bona fides as a member of a particular cult or belief system.

Seen in those terms, it's not so odd. And as the era of the dominance of the nation-state draws to its historical close, and people respond by devolving to more basic loyalty groups like clans, tribes and religions, you can expect more of this, not less.

bjkeefe said...

Yes, I think that it almost certainly part of it. There is so much attention paid to polls these days that true culture warriors have a tendency to answer questions based on what they're expected to believe to remain members in good standing of Greater Wingnuttia. There's also the perennial attitude of "if it pisses off liberals/academics/teh elite, it's automatically good."

But I don't think that explains all of it. Note the closing paragraph at the bottom of that Monkey Cage post:

One explanation for this is familiar to any reader of John Zaller's The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion: when political elites take contrasting positions on issues, those positions will be reflected in their fellow partisans in the public, at least among those who are paying enough attention to politics to receive these elite messages.

If you've ever read, say, George Monbiot's examination of the funding sources of denialism and the main strategy they used -- copy the tobacco companies and turn it into a matter of political ideology -- this makes sense.

I'd add a third component: I suspect that given the easy availability of media that tells one what one would like to believe, there's sort of a positive feedback loop: if one would like to believe that warnings about AGW are so much hokum coming from pointy-heads determined to bring about World Socialism, or if one's simplistic religious beliefs are called into question and one therefore would like to hear that evolution is Just A Theory (if not flat-out wrong), why, there are plenty of people who are eager to cater.

Thus, I don't think it's just a matter of a not very strongly held belief merely presented as a badge of identification. I think it goes deeper than that in a lot of cases.