Is it getting hot in here?

This will be another graph-heavy post, but I just had to share it: Two political scientists, Patrick Egan and Megan Mullin, have investigated whether changes in local temperature affects US citizens’ views about the chance of global warming. Turns out it does, as we’ll see. But the paper itself is full of interesting graphs, which I’ll share with you here. Beware, though, that graphs are not The Truth. They can, however, be Fun.

The authors state that:

In constructing their opinions about political issues, individuals wade through a sea of information that comes from sources including political elites, the media, issue experts, interpersonal relationships, and personal experience. Research on the effects of this information has focused recently on information delivered with ideological cues, or information that elites have made at least some effort to link to an ideological agenda. The prevailing theory about these messages is that those who are interested in politics receive many more such messages than those who are not, and that politically sophisticated individuals accept these messages in a selective fashion based upon whether the cues agree with their personal ideological predispositions, while the less informed are less consistent in what new information they accept […] Less explored is another kind of information that is politically relevant but devoid of ideological content.

They set out to examine how changes in temperature affect views of a political issue such as belief in global warming. First, the money graph, as the Monkey Cage called it in the post where I found this:

Change in temperature vs. agreeing that there is solid evidence for global warming

Change in temperature vs. agreeing that there is solid evidence for global warming

What this tells you, if you see it in conjunction with the numbers provided in the paper, is that for every increase of 3 degrees Fahrenheit, people are 1 % more likely to agree that there is solid evidence for global warming. So this tells us that tangible changes have an effect. However, the effect is actually pretty small, especially compared to factors like partisanship, ideological stance (aren’t those two somewhat related?) or religiosity, as we can see in the following graph:

Effect of different variables on belief in global warming or not

Effect of different variables on belief in global warming or not

Now, we can break this even further down. Here’s a graph of the groups for whom temperature change has a greater effect then average:

Interestingly, blacks are by far those most affected by temperature changes. Just remember that this does not mean that they believe more in global warming than others, just that when temperatures get higher, they are more likely to change their attitude. Someone who believes firmly in global warming will not feel differently if the weather turns cooler, and the opposite goes for the sceptics when it gets hotter. Here is the group for whom it has lesser effect:


To prove that last point about undecision and, well, undecision, here’s a graph showing how party affiliation affects:

Party affiliation vs agreement with global warming

Party affiliation vs agreement with global warming

As you can see, Democrats generally believe more firmly in global warming than Republicans. There are two interesting things in that graph. One is that regardless of temperature change and party affiliation, about 75 % of them believe in global warming. The other finding is that those who less entrenched in party politics, i.e. those leaning towards a party rather than being members, are most affected by outside effects like temperature change when assessing claims about global warming.

We can see something similar when we look at the level of education:

Education vs assessment of global warming

Education vs assessment of global warming

What’s interesting is that the higher the education, the more sure people are of their views on the issue, to the point where post-graduates have no chance of changing opinion on the matter depending on the weather. Finally, I have to include the graph that to me is funniest, if not most valuable. The authors actually took the bother to chart beliefs about climate change against the time of screening of Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth. Here’s the result:

Belief in global warming vs screening of An Inconvenient Truth over time

Belief in global warming vs screening of An Inconvenient Truth over time

As you can see, there’s a big jump in belief in global warming just around the time the movie aired, followed by a steady, but not as large decline as it stopped running in cinemas.

All this goes to prove that we are suspect to changes in attitude and opinions based on things that are not necessarily rational. Well, rationality might be a bad term, as it’s not irrational to be persuaded by the arguments of a documentary per se, but when so many change their opinion back after a short while, something is going on here.

End of another long post. How about the annual Time’s 100 Poll getting hacked not once, but twice, to spell a message chosen by a small hacking collective who usually hang out at 4chan?


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