Physical-World Knowledge and Public Views on Climate Change

Authors: Lawrence Hamilton*, University of New Hampshire
Topics: Global Change, Environmental Perception, Political Geography
Keywords: climate change, surveys, knowledge
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Climate change is a formidable topic, challenging the research efforts of countless scientists across many different fields. Surveys find surprisingly high levels of confidence among nonscientists, however, regarding their own understanding of climate change. More than three-fourths of the respondents on recent US surveys claimed to understand either a moderate amount or a great deal about climate change. Follow-up questions testing actual knowledge suggest that self-assessments are high relative to physical-world knowledge, but they partly reflect politically-based confidence instead. This paper replicates and extends previous research using new data: an October 2018 survey that included a four-item test of basic, climate-relevant but belief-neutral geographical or physical knowledge, such as locations of the North and South Pole. Mean knowledge scores are higher among younger, male, and college-educated respondents, and also differ significantly across political groups. Relationships between physical/geographical knowledge and self-assessed understanding of climate change, or between knowledge and agreement with the scientific consensus on climate change, are sometimes positive as expected — but in both cases, these relationships vary with political identity.

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