Poll: The Tea Party is driving distrust of science

New data sheds insight on the pernicious effects of right-wing climate denial

By Lindsay Abrams
Published May 20, 2014 5:40PM (EDT)
Sarah Palin                                        (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Sarah Palin (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

What's driving the spectacular collapse of the right-wing mind? Mother Jones' Chris Mooney finds a clue in this poll data out from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, which asked 568 New Hampshire residents, among other things, this big question: "Would you say that you trust, don't trust, or are unsure about scientists as a source of information about environmental issues?"

Here, from the report, are their responses, broken down by political party:

Mooney spoke with survey researcher Lawrence Hamilton about his results; and came away with this analysis:

This is pretty striking: The first three political groups—Democrats, independents, and non-tea party Republicans—all trust scientists on the environment. But then you come to tea party members, and suddenly, distrust in scientists soars. The numbers are stark: 60 percent of traditional Republicans trust scientists on the environment, versus only 28 percent of tea partiers.

Hamilton says he's surprised by the strength of these results. "I didn't realize it would be at the level of division that it was," says Hamilton. He adds that while Republicans and tea partiers in New Hampshire aren't precisely the same in all respects as they are elsewhere in America, "in general, New Hampshire is not drastically unrepresentative." When it comes to tea partiers and more traditional Republicans on the national level, Hamilton says that he "would expect similar gaps to show up."

Tea Partyers were, unsurprisingly, also less likely to believe man-made climate change is happening: 23 percent accept climate change, as compared to 36 percent of Republicans. (Of course, that's also the question on which one of the widest gaps was identified, and it was between Democrats -- 83 percent of whom accepted climate change -- and Republicans.) But while half of Republicans conceded that future Arctic warming will affect the weather where they live, only 30 percent of Tea Partyers admitted the same.

"Climate change is sort of bleeding over into a lower trust in science across a range of issues," Hamilton theorized. "The critiques of climate science work by often arguing that science is corrupt, and then that spills over to other kinds of science." And that, perhaps, is the best explanation we can hope for as to how we ended up with George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer appearing on Fox News to more or less declare that science is dead.

Lindsay Abrams

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Climate Change Climate Skeptics Fox News Republicans Science Deniers Tea Party