The Role of Race and Ethnicity in Climate Change Polarization: Evidence from a U.S. National Survey Experiment

  • Citation: Schuldt, J.P., Pearson, A.R. The role of race and ethnicity in climate change polarization: evidence from a U.S. national survey experiment. Climatic Change 136, 495–505 (2016).
    • Topics:
    • Transnational Issues
    • Keywords:
    • climate beliefs
    • environmentalist
    • racial/ethnic majority and minority

Research suggests that public divides on climate change may often be rooted in identity processes, driven in part by a motivation to associate with others with similar political and ideological views. In a large split-ballot national survey experiment of 2041 U.S. adults, we explored the role of a non-partisan identity—racial/ethnic majority and minority status—in climate change opinion, in addition to respondents’ political orientation (i.e., ideology and party affiliation). Specifically, we examined respondents’ climate beliefs and policy support, identification with groups that support environmental causes (“environmentalists”), and the sensitivity of these beliefs to other factors known to predict issue polarization (political orientation and issue framing). Results revealed that across all opinion metrics, non-Whites’ views were less politically polarized than those of Whites and were unaffected by exposure to different ways of framing the issue (as “global warming” versus “climate change”). Moreover, non-Whites were reliably less likely to self-identify as environmentalists compared to Whites, despite expressing existence beliefs and support for regulating greenhouse gases at levels comparable to Whites. These findings suggest that racial and ethnic identities can shape core climate change beliefs in previously overlooked ways. We consider implications for public outreach and climate science advocacy.

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