Communicating the Scientific Consensus on Human-Caused Climate Change is an Effective and Depolarizing Public Engagement Strategy: Experimental Evidence from a Large National Replication Study
23 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2016 Last revised: 26 Dec 2019
Date Written: February 17, 2016
This experimental study evaluated whether communicating the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change is likely to be effective with the American public. Drawing on a large national sample (N = 6,301), we set out to replicate and extend the findings of van der Linden et al. (2015). Consistent with the original study, we find robust and replicated evidence that communicating the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change leads to significant and substantial changes in perceived scientific agreement among conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike. These findings prove robust, even among those predisposed to receive counter-attitudinal information (e.g., Fox-news watchers, global warming skeptics). Further, among conservatives, we find the greatest change in perceived consensus among the subset whose own friends and family are least likely to believe in human-caused global warming. In short, we find little evidence of identity-protective cognition and no evidence of belief polarization across these groups. We further find that communicating the scientific consensus has (positive) direct effects (across the political spectrum) on belief that climate change is happening, human-caused, and a serious threat that requires societal action. We also find that these direct effects are mediated by changes in perceived scientific consensus. In other words, public perception of the scientific consensus is an important gateway cognition. Results also show that belief in the scientific consensus is more influential in driving public engagement than perceived consensus among other groups (e.g., Americans). Lastly, although public understanding of the scientific consensus is low, we find that conservatives and moderates are significantly less aware of the scientific consensus than liberals.
Keywords: scientific consensus, climate change, public engagement, motivated cognition, gateway belief model (GBM)
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