Political Ideology Trumps First-hand Experience on Climate Change

December 15, 2014

While attributing specific extreme weather events to anthropogenic climate change is always subject to challenge, assertions that climate change has already increased the occurrence of such phenomena is harder to deny. Indeed, extreme weather events such as the 2003 European heat wave, 2010 Russian heat wave, 2012 Superstorm Sandy in the US, or the 2013-14 southward shifts of the North Polar Vortex are consistent with predictions of climate change impacts (McCright et al. 2014). Social scientists increasingly ask to what extent does the general public link such extreme weather patterns to anthropogenic climate change, and how is this perception affected by demographic factors such as gender, economic status, or political orientation? Answering these questions is increasingly important because accurate perceptions are vital for strengthening adaptive capacity (Adger et al. 2007) and increasing support for climate change mitigation policies and strategies (Whitmarsh 2008, McCright et al. 2014).

McCright et al. (2014) examined factors affecting perceptions of climate change, focusing specifically on weather anomalies and political orientation. Their study focused on winter 2012 in the conterminous US, which was the fourth warmest winter in the US since 1895 (Crouch et al. 2012, McCright et al. 2014). They used individual-level survey data from a March 2012 US Gallup Poll along with state-level temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The March 2012 Gallup Poll was carried out only a few weeks after the end of winter 2012, when the exceptionally warm weather was still on everyone’s minds. McCright et al. (2014) found that perception of local weather phenomena was strongly influenced by climate change beliefs and political orientation—Democrats were more likely to perceive warmer local temperatures as unusual and attribute them, at least partially, to anthropogenic climate change. While not surprising, their findings suggest that personal experiences with extreme weather events are unlikely to increase support for global warming mitigation efforts because our perception of climate change “is filtered through partisan and ideological lenses” (McCright et al. 2014).



Adger W.N. 2007. In IPCC Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Parry, M.L., Canziani, O F., Palutikof, J.P., van der Linden, P. J. & Hanson, C. E.) 717–743 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007). Crouch J., Bair A., and van den Dool H. 2012. NOAA Climate Science and Services Monthly Climate Update McCright A.M., Dunlap R.E., and Xiao C. 2014. The impacts of temperature anomalies and political orientation.