A Gallup poll published in January 2013 found that forty-seven percent of Americans identified with the Democratic Party and forty-two percent of Americans identified with Republicans. Within this seemingly binary split is a split within the Republican Party—the Tea Party and so-called establishment Republicans. Americans, since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, has seen an obvious disparity between mainstream Republicans and the Tea Party.
Specifically, I want to look at half of Americans voters (that is, the Republican Party) through the lens of climate change. A Washington Post article recently found that most Americans believe that global warming is occurring (whether global warming is caused by human activities is a point of contention between the Democratic and Republican Party).
Specifically, sixty-one percent of mainstream Republicans believe that global warming is occurring, in contrast to only twenty-five percent of Tea Party members. Seventy percent of Tea Party members believe that there is no solid evidence for global warming.
Tea Party members are not scientifically illiterate (perhaps even possibly more scientifically literate than the general vote, as evidenced by a recent study, although the study qualified its conclusions by saying that this was within an error of margin).
But this same study points to a problem within the Tea Party. A high scientific literacy is based on “faith” in the scientific method—you have your hypothesis, you have your tests, and you have your conclusions. But anyone is free to question your conclusions. Indeed, the mark of a good scientist is to question everything until there is some evidence that you find to be absolutely believable.
The mark of a good citizen is a similar concept to a good scientist—you should be skeptical of higher powers, such as the government, because the government, while meant to be working for the people, is made of people who have their individual agenda.
The Tea Party, which prides itself on small government, has taken this skepticism a notch higher than other voters. As evidenced by the poll on global warming, Tea Partiers are far more skeptical of the scientific data regarding global warming, with forty-one percent of Tea Partiers who say that global warming is not occurring believing that global warming is simply “not happening”. Presumably, these Republicans believe that the data that has been released by the scientific community is simply false.
This disconnect between the Tea Party and the scientific community is reflective of the Tea Party’s skepticism reaching to the scientific community. According to the Tea Party, academia is not credible. Since the 1950s, conservatives have railed against places of higher education being liberal institutions—it would make sense that the Tea Party would see scientists as pushing the agenda of the so-called opposite party.
Ironically, a person who is less skeptical and less inclined to use more scientific methods of thinking would probably be more likely to “swallow” the data and conclusions of scientists. Liberals, while also skeptical, are more likely to accept the scientific community as legitimate and therefore accept the body of evidence for global warming. Mainstream Republicans, being more moderate than Tea Partiers, will be more likely to follow the Democrats in at least accepting the scientific community as being unbiased.
While the Tea Party is skeptical of the scientific community, there is no “other” scientific community that Americans can consult. The problem now is not specifically of global warming—it’s how to convince the Tea Party of the legitimacy of the scientific community. There is no way we can engage in a discourse about anything that needs scientific data if a significant portion of Americans do not even believe the providers of the data.