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Party Cues in the News: Democratic Elites, Republican Backlash, and the Dynamics of Climate Skepticism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 July 2020

Eric Merkley*
Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, Canada
Dominik A. Stecula
Department of Political Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Supporters of the Republican Party have become much more skeptical of the science of climate change since the 1990s. This article argues that out-group cues from Democratic elites caused a backlash that resulted in greater climate skepticism. The authors construct aggregate measures of climate skepticism from nearly 200 public opinion polls at the quarterly level from 2001 to 2014 and at the annual level from 1986 to 2014. They also build time-series measures of possible contributors to climate skepticism using an automated media content analysis. The analyses provide evidence that cues from party elites – especially from Democrats – are associated with aggregate dynamics in climate change skepticism, including among supporters of the Republican Party. The study also involves a party cue survey experiment administered to a sample of 3,000 Americans through Amazon Mechanical Turk to provide more evidence of causality. Together, these results highlight the importance of out-group cue taking and suggest that climate change skepticism should be examined through the lens of elite-led opinion formation.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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