Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Leading the Way to Compromise? Cultural Theory and Climate Change Opinion

  • Michael D. Jones (a1)

Climate change is easily one of the most contentious policy problems facing the United States. A majority of climate scientists agree that the earth has warmed over the last 100 years and that human-made greenhouse gasses are the cause (e.g., Doran and Zimmerman 2009; IPCC 2007; Oreskes 2004, but also see Bray 2010), yet a nontrivial portion of the US population diverges sharply from this dominant scientific position (see, for example, Jenkins-Smith, Herron, and Silva 2010, 41–45; Leiserowitz 2006; Nisbet and Myers 2007). Why? Past research usually points to the public's lack of climate change knowledge (e.g., Kellstedt, Zahran, and Vedlitz 2008), finds that media over report the views of climate change skeptics in a misplaced quest for “balanced” reporting (e.g., Boykoff and Boykoff 2007, but see Swedlow and Wildavsky 1995), or the public simply take cues from opinion leaders whom they trust (e.g., Malka, Krosnick, and Langer 2009). This article moves beyond the predominant concern with climate change knowledge, messaging structures, and cue taking in past research, and shifts the focus to characteristics intrinsic to the individual. The research presented here assesses the extent that the cultural theory (CT) developed by Mary Douglas, Aaron Wildavsky, and others (see, e.g., Schwarz and Thompson 1990; Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky 1990) can help political scientists understand why so many Americans do not align themselves with the majority of scientists and can help policy makers broker compromises on climate change policy.

Hide All
Berrens Robert P., Bohara Alok K., Jenkins-Smith Hank, Silva Carol, and Weimer David L.. 2003. “The Advent of Internet Surveys for Political Research: A Comparison of Telephone and Internet Samples.” Political Analysis 11 (1): 122.
Boykoff Maxwell T., and Boykoff Jules M.. 2007. “Climate Change and Journalistic Norms: A Case-Study of US Mass-Media Coverage.” Geoforum 38 (6): 11901204.
Bray Dennis. 2010. “The Scientific Consensus of Climate Change Revisited.” Environmental Science and Policy 13 (5): 340–50.
Coyle Dennis, and Wildavsky Aaron. 1987. “Requisites of Radical Reform: Income Maintenance versus Tax Preferences.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 7 (1): 116.
Doran Peter T., and Zimmerman Maggie Kendall. 2009. “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.” EOS 90 (3): 286300.
Ellis Richard J., and Thompson Fred. 1997. “Culture and Environment in the Pacific Northwest.” American Political Science Review 91 (4): 885–97.
Gastil John, Braman Don, Kahan Dan, and Slovic Paul. 2011. “The Cultural Orientations of Mass Political Opinion.” PS: Political Science & Politics, this issue.
IPCC. 2007. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Jacoby William G. 2010. “Policy Attitudes, Ideology and Voting Behavior in the 2008 Election.” Electoral Studies 29 (4): 557–68.
Jenkins-Smith Hank C., Herron Kerry G., and Silva Carol L.. 2010. American Perspectives on Security: Energy, Environment, Nuclear Weapons, and Terrorism: 2010. Sandia National Laboratories Report, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Jenkins-Smith Hank C., and Smith Walter K.. 1994. “Ideology, Culture, and Risk Perception.” In Politics, Policy, and Culture, eds. Coyle D. J. and Ellis R. J., 1732. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Jones Michael D. 2010. “Heroes and Villains: Cultural Narratives, Mass Opinions, and Climate Change.” PhD diss. University of Oklahoma.
Kellstedt Paul M., Zahran Sammy, and Vedlitz Arnold. 2008. “Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes toward Global Warming and Climate Change in the United States.” Risk Analysis 28 (1): 113–26.
Leiserowitz Anthony. 2006. “Climate Change Risk Perception and Policy Preferences: The Role of Affect, Imagery, and Values.” Climatic Change 77 (1): 4572.
Lockhart Charles. 1997. “Political Culture and Political Change.” In Culture Matters: Essays in Honor of Aaron Wildavsky, eds. Ellis Richard J. and Thompson Michael, 91104. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Lodge Martin, and Wegrich Kai. 2011. “Arguing about Financial Regulation: Comparing National Discourses on the Global Financial Crisis.” PS: Political Science & Politics, this issue.
Malka Ariel, Krosnick Jon A., and Langer Gary. 2009. “The Association of Knowledge with Concern about Global Warming: Trusted Information Sources Shape Public Thinking.” Risk Analysis 29 (5): 633–47.
Mamadouh Virginie. 1999. “Grid-Group Cultural Theory: An Introduction.” GeoJournal 47 (3): 395409.
Nisbet Matthew C., and Myers Teresa. 2007. “Twenty Years of Public Opinion about Global Warming.” Public Opinion Quarterly 71 (3): 444–70.
Oreskes Naomi. 2004. “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.” Science 306 (5702): 1686.
Rayner Steve, and Malone Elizabeth L.. 1998. Human Choice and Climate Change: The Societal Framework. First ed. Columbus, OH: Battelle Press.
Schwarz Michiel, and Thompson Michael 1990. Divided We Stand: Redefining Politics, Technology and Social Choice. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Swedlow Brendon. 2006. “Introduction.” In Aaron Wildavsky, Cultural Analysis: Politics, Public Law, and Administration, xi–xli. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Swedlow Brendon. 2011. “Cultural Surprises as Sources of Sudden, Big Policy Change.” PS: Political Science & Politics, this issue.
Swedlow Brendon, and Wildavsky Aaron. 1995. “Reporting Environmental Science.” In Aaron Wildavsky, But is it True? A Citizen's Guide to Environmental Health and Safety Issues, 375–94. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Thompson Michael, Ellis Richard, and Wildavsky Aaron. 1990. Cultural Theory. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Verweij Marco. 2006. “Is the Kyoto Protocol Merely Irrelevant, or Positively Harmful, for the Efforts to Curb Climate Change?” In Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World: Governance, Politics, and Plural Perceptions, ed. Verweij Marco and Thompson Michael, 3160. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Verweij Marco, Douglas Mary, Ellis Richard, Engel Christoph, Hendriks Frank, Lohmann Susanne, Ney Steve, Rayner Steve, and Thompson Michael. 2006. “Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World: The Case of Climate Change.” Public Administration 84 (4): 817–43.
Wood Dan B., and Vedlitz Arnold. 2007. “Issue Definition, Information Processing, and the Politics of Global Warming.” American Journal of Political Science 51 (3): 552–68.
Zia Asim, and Todd Anne Marie. 2010. “Evaluating the Effects of Ideology on Public Understanding of Climate Change Science: How to Improve Communication across Ideological Divides?Public Understanding of Science 19 (6): 743–61.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

PS: Political Science & Politics
  • ISSN: 1049-0965
  • EISSN: 1537-5935
  • URL: /core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 8
Total number of PDF views: 63 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 246 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.