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Republican climate denial: it's the donors, stupid

(Shutterstock)

Over at Mother Jones, Sean McElwee and Brian Schaffner make a point that I've been meaning to make for a long time: Big-money Republican donors are far more likely to be climate denialists, and to oppose any action to address climate change, than Republicans in general.

They examine a couple of different surveys and data sets to establish this conclusion. For instance, this is from the "2012 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a survey of more than 50,000 Americans funded by the National Science Foundation and designed by scholars from more than 40 universities":

GOP donors on climate change (Mother Jones)

Similarly, GOP donors are more opposed to specific actions on climate change — regulating carbon dioxide emissions, boosting renewable energy — than average Republicans.

By contrast, big-money Democratic donors are slightly more likely than average Democrats to accept climate change and to support climate policy.

What should we make of this?

The donor–Tea Party cycle pulling the GOP rightward

As I said many times, a modest majority of Republican voters accept that the climate is changing and support action to address it. The graph at the top of this post makes the full dynamic clearer: Nonvoters (the least engaged) are most likely to accept the broader social consensus about climate; voters (more engaged) are less likely; donors (the most engaged) are least likely.

This lines up with similar polling from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which shows that opposition to climate action rises with degree of conservatism:

In other words, the more a person is active, engaged, and involved with the Republican Party, the more likely he or she is to take extreme right-wing views on climate. There is no obvious corresponding dynamic on the Democratic side.

Climate change is not the only issue where this dynamic works, of course. Over time, the GOP has built a radicalizing machine, an infrastructure of media, local groups, and national lobbying organizations meant to inflate the conspiratorial fears of low-trust, high-information conservatives. And GOP megadonors helped build that machine, because when it comes to issues of regulation and spending, they are on the far right.

Among other things, this dynamic ensures that virtually every elected Republican feels pressure to move further right and almost no pressure to moderate. They believe their constituents are further right than they actually are, because the groups they hear from most clearly — big donors and engaged members of the base — are on the party's far right.

Anyone celebrating "cracks in the wall of Republican climate denial" (as journalists are wont to do periodically, and have for 20 years now) needs to grapple with this fact: It's the base and the donors that matter, and there are no cracks showing there.