12B.2 Stability and Instability in Individual Beliefs about Climate Change

Thursday, 10 January 2019: 8:45 AM
North 122BC (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Hank Jenkins-Smith, Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK; and J. T. Ripberger, C. Silva, and W. W. Wehde

A great deal of research has been conducted in recent decades to describe and explain the public’s views of climate change, especially in the USA. A crucial theme of the accumulated body of work is that climate change attitudes and beliefs are increasingly linked to stable cognitive characteristics such as values, worldviews and ideologies, making it difficult to change them via information campaigns and other messaging efforts. At the same time, long-term trend studies show a fair degree of variation in aggregate public opinion over time, a clear indication that some members of the public do change their views. These trends have prompted investigation of the impact of changing economic conditions and elite cues related to increasing political polarization over climate change, as well as perceived and experienced changes in climatological phenomena such as temperature, precipitation and extreme weather events. Unfortunately, the studies reporting trend data employ different (representative) samples over time are unable to document and analyze change at the individual level. In fact, even periods of relative stability in aggregate-level views can mask substantial change within sectors of the public, such as the growing divergence in views of climate change among Republicans and Democrats. This project addresses these ambiguities in the current body of knowledge about American’s views of climate change by employing a unique set of panel data that tracks individuals’ climate change beliefs on a quarterly basis for a four year period to answer two questions: (1) How frequently do individuals change their beliefs about anthropogenic climate change? (2) Are some groups of individuals more likely than others to change their beliefs about anthropogenic climate change?
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