Believing what they’re told to believe

BELIEVING WHAT THEY’RE TOLD TO BELIEVE…. A new report this week from the Pew Research Center shows what we probably could have guessed: conservatives in America reject evidence of global warming. But Pew study also raises an important related point: it didn’t use to be this way.

Pew found that a 53% majority of self-identified Republicans believe there is no solid evidence the earth is warming. Among “Tea Party” Republicans, the results were even worse, with 70% concluding that the climate science is wrong. This isn’t exactly surprising.

But reader H.S. flagged a key detail about the trend in attitudes:

Disbelief in global warming in the GOP is a recent occurrence. Just a few years ago, in 2007, a 62%-majority of Republicans said there is solid evidence of global warming, while less than a third (31%) said there is no solid evidence. Currently, just 38% of Republicans say there is solid evidence the earth is warming, and only 16% say that warming is caused by human activity. In 2007, three-in-ten Republicans said global warming was the result of human activity.

The national trend is discouraging enough. As recently as July 2006, a whopping 79% of the country believed there’s solid evidence pointing to global warming. Four years later, as the evidence has grown stronger, Americans’ beliefs have grown weaker — now only 59% believe there’s solid evidence.

But the trend is largely a partisan one — fewer Americans accept the science because the right has rejected reality so thoroughly.

The larger point to keep in mind is the effect of the discourse. A few years ago, Republican voters, by and large, believed what the mainstream believed when it came to climate science. Then their party, its candidates, and its media outlets told these voters to stop believing the facts — and rank-and-file Republicans did as they were told. In effect, partisans on the right outsourced their evaluation of evidence to their party, and Republicans decided climate science is no longer worthy of support.

This happens more than it should. If I had to guess, if you asked regular ol’ Republican voters several years ago whether the United States should engage in torture, they probably would have said no. But then their party told them to change their mind, and they did. If you asked these GOP voters whether a health care mandate, in line with Republican proposals, was a reasonable policy, they probably would have said yes. But then their party told them to change their mind, and they did.

This really isn’t healthy.