In America, only two political parties can win the presidency. For that reason the two parties tend to have a 'big tent' mentality and embrace a lot of fringe members in return for votes. The perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good, the saying goes.

Due to that structure, and that a tiny percentage of 'swing voters' determine a winner, the opposing sides tend to vilify and stereotype each other as much as possible, including in ways that are tailored to the audience. For example, Democrats hate business and are anti-science, while Republicans hate minorities and are anti-science. 

Wait, they're both anti-science? Sure, just about different things. 

Despite opposition from many Republicans, President George W. Bush limited federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research to existing lines. Progressive activists in politics and science media called that limitation a 'ban' and said Republicans are anti-science.  Despite opposition from many Democrats and scientists, President Obama bans somatic cell nuclear transfer and conservative political activists in science media would call him anti-science for that, if there were more than five of them. 

Pick a science position and one side or the other is anti-science; for the right it is global warming, biology and evolution, for the left it is still evolution and biology but they are more anti-science about medicine rather than the climate.

Yet we know that, despite simplistic framing by zealots, it isn't that entire political parties are anti-science, much less the entire swath of diverse people inside them.  Republicans, for example, dislike the term 'global warming' - as do most climate scientists - but their acceptance of climate science and the physics behind it goes way up when the term is 'climate change', which is more scientifically accurate. Democrats don't hate all energy, they just hate energy that works, like nuclear power and fossil fuels, and the same goes for medicine; Democrats more than Republicans distrust validated medicine and embrace the alternative kind. But that does not mean we can call Democrats anti-science due to that any more than we can call all Republicans anti-science because slightly more of them don't accept evolution.

Even on science topics, it isn't always left and right, including on issues we get told are left and right. Sociologists analyzed some Gallup survey results - yes, that is what they call a study, in the social science world - and found common ground among Democrats and Republicans when it comes to taking action on climate science. People in either party who accept the consensus on climate change think CO2 emissions are important enough for the government to curb them, like we have done with lots of other types of pollution.

Now, CO2 in America needs curbed by the government less and less each day - we have migrated from coal for energy to natural gas and energy sector CO2 emissions have plummeted, while the government's $72 billion in green energy corporation subsidies helped us very little. But it's still good to know that people will support more government restrictions should they ever be needed.

What the surveys tell us is that despite the caricatures some draw about their opposition, lots of people cross party lines when it comes to their issues of importance. Not every Democrat is an anti-science hippie, not every Republican is a greedy, oil-guzzling vampire. In fact, most aren't. Even conservatives who deny global warming studies conserve energy as much as rabid left-wing believers.

In Science Left Behind, a book I wrote last year with Dr. Alex Berezow, I tried to get rid of left-right thinking, and even the famous quadrant (liberal, progressive, conservative, libertarian) and replace it with a triangle.  The idea that each issue can be represented by extreme nodes of a triangle that correlate to issues like freedom and fairness and excellence is obvious - instead of being at a fixed point or on a line, we are in some moving spot in the space between those nodes, depending on the topic. For sports, as an example, we want the best players but we don't want an ethnicity being blocked out of participation.  A heavier influence toward freedom and excellence means teams are going to hire the best athletes regardless of race, religion, etc. while too much focus on fairness means America would need to have 13% Latino hockey players and at any given time we must have 9 Jewish professional basketball players.  Maybe there are 9 Jewish basketball players in the NBA, I have no idea, but it would be silly to mandate it when we just want to see good basketball.(1)

Obviously that Republicans - generally in favor of smaller government and less regulation - would support more regulation on emissions to solve climate change defies left-right thinking. It's not that complicated to people outside politics, it's simply a matter of the importance of the issue to that person.  I personally don't like that America is the only civilized country that allows late-term abortion on demand. No other first world country does. As the recent trial of a highly unethical abortion doctor showed, if an aborted 'fetus' is alive and swimming in a toilet, it's probably a baby.  But if my Congressional representative says a baby should be aborted at 39 weeks for any reason, would I change my vote?  No, because the importance of that part of the abortion issue is rather low for me.  I am for freedom and that means allowing things like abortions and gun ownership - you can restrict them with some common sense but you can't ban them. However, I own guns and don't want to be criminalized for doing something a smart guy like Thomas Jefferson said I should be able to do, so while the importance of abortion to me personally might be a 1 on a 10 scale, it isn't the same for guns. If my elected representative is in favor of abortion or not, it changes nothing about how I vote but banning guns would be a 10 in importance - I would vote for the other side.  Yet even then it is not simply one side or another. On background checks for buyers in aftermarket sales, I am more like an 8 - on the other side. If you don't favor background checks that stop criminals from getting guns at gun shows, I am likely to vote for someone else.

See? People are more complex than the Washington Post wants you to believe when they are telling us all how polarized we are.

Sure, surveys are not perfect but for this kind of thing they are okay, if they are well-constructed.  A dozen people who averaged polls the day before the 2012 Presidential election predicted all 50 states correctly so they clearly get big issues right - and climate change is a big issue, virtually no one in America has not heard of it or lacks an opinion.

The sociologists used a 2012 Gallup poll, a survey of 1,024 adults that had a 95% confidence interval, +/- 4%. From those results they concluded that there wasn't a more positive response for action by Republicans because of a "denial machine", an organized movement to undercut climate data during the past two decades. But that is where the paper falls apart a little. There is 10,000X as much money spent on climate change awareness as is spent on denial. 

What is instead happening is that Congress is doing exactly what they are told to do; when 52 Democrats sent a letter to the FDA demanding warming labels for genetically-modified foods, they were not responding to a well-funded, anti-science "denial machine" against GMOs, they were representing the beliefs of Democrats who think biologists are driving us off a health cliff.  Painting it as a denial machine for people on the right who believe climate scientists are driving us off an economic cliff is conspiracy theory stuff, not evidence-based. The money spent on climate science denial is trivial, it is like saying Dr. Bonner's Magic Soap can take down Monsanto by spouting their homeopathy nonsense about organic products.

What is really probably happening are two things; numerical models are a lot better and that makes people comfortable. Conservatives in science tend to be in the harder sciences and engineering and math - they know models and how to make them and how statistics and big data work. In 2001, climate models were shockingly simplistic, something conceded even by groups like the Weather Underground now.  In 2013 many more models are high-quality and climate scientists have greater knowledge of what can go wrong, they know better which knobs are important and how to make the data manageable.  As the data got stronger and the public learned more about the science, distrust started to fade.  On the left, we see the same issue with their reactionary anti-science positions. More and more people who care about food are abandoning the reflexive 'science is evil' position and learning how science works. In the process, they are losing their fear of it. Here is one example in GMOs: Science Is Laughing At Us.

Now we need to get sociologists to stop taking survey results and mapping it to their cultural topology also. In science, mapping the data you have to the topology you pre-determined is a big no-no.

People are embracing cleaner energy without being forced into it; government mandates for ethanol and solar and wind power have been huge, expensive flops while the private sector has made cleaner energy at affordable cost, without their union workers being penalized. Still, the environment can never be a libertarian free-for-all.

"Certainly we can't solve all our problems with global warming through government regulations – in fact, for some problems, government regulations might make it worse," said first author Aaron McCright, a sociologist at Michigan State University, in their statement. "And so we need a combination of market-based solutions and government regulations." 

That's true, very few issues are as black-and-white as proponents and opponents paint them, and neither are solutions.

Citation: Aaron M. McCright, Riley E. Dunlap, Chenyang Xiao, 'Perceived scientific agreement and support for government action on climate change in the USA', Climatic Change February 2013, no link because they will charge you $40 for the stupid thing and if Springer wants advertising here, they can pay for it.


(1) If you go back in time, basketball was 'a Jewish sport'.