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It is quite well-established that the politics of climate change are quite polarising – the left believes it is happening, the right is sceptical. Ignoring the truth of it, this makes sense in a way – those who describe themselves as ‘left-wing’ will be more likely to listen to left-wing MPs, who tell them global warming exists, and the opposite for the right.

This factor, I had thought, would have accounted for these yawning gaps in the opinion polls between the left and right on whether climate change is real. In other words, there should be no inherent linkage between climate change and your ideology – only your adherence to a particular side of politics. Apparently, I’m wrong.

The Australian published the following editorial by Andrew Norton, a right-wing classical liberal, who I don’t always agree with but who faithfully follows the evidence. He conducted an opinion poll of self-identifying ‘right-wingers’ (those who rated themselves between 7 and 10 on a left-right spectrum from 0-10). He then correlated ideology (classical liberal, libertarian, conservative, and social conservative and economic liberal) with belief in climate change.

A more detailed analysis shows the divisions partly reflect differences of opinion between conservatives on the one hand and liberals and libertarians on the other. A plurality of classical liberals and libertarians think climate change has human causes, while a majority of conservatives think it has natural causes. Following from these beliefs, most conservatives oppose policy action while most classical liberals and libertarians support it, but without agreeing on a policy mechanism.

This is fascinating to me, because I can see no difference between classical liberals in terms of ideology that distinguishes them from conservatives in terms of climate change. Sure, conservatives vociferously hate greenies, but libertarians are hardly in favour of the environment. Libertarians would just give their usual blithe answer that if the environment is worth saving, private individuals will choose to save it. And they don’t. So the environment is useless.

The answer may lie in the fact that classical liberals identify less with the Liberal Party than conservatives (ironic, no?):

While more than three-quarters of respondents accepting one of the conservative labels support the Coalition, that is so for only half of classical liberals and a third of libertarians. Nearly one-in-five classical liberals say they usually vote Labor.

Does this mean that classical liberals tend to be more independently minded than conservatives? Or do liberals merely feel alienated by the Howard government’s authoritarian approach to government? The former answer makes a great deal of sense, though that doesn’t preclude the latter also being true. Liberalism grew out of the Enlightenment, and appeals to rationality. On the other hand, conservatism believe in strong leaders, following institutions etc. They don’t like upsetting the status quo, which is the logical conclusion of climate change. This means that liberals are more likely to follow the evidence, and conservatives to blithely believe their leaders when the Right tells us tha climate change is a terrible practical joke.

All in all, its a very interesting survey. Norton does a lot of statistical analyses of his survey and dribbles them out over time.

You can see them here:


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