Photographer: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images
Photographer: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images

A good question from dabenj: “How come Americans are so much more climate-skeptical than the rest of the Western world's population?”

The first-order answer is clear. Americans are more climate-skeptical (if that’s the right term) because the U.S. has a two-party system with one party dedicated to climate skepticism. Most people follow trusted opinion leaders, at least on those issues where they have little personal stake and little personal expertise (which means most issues for most of us). Views on climate change probably are reinforced by the rise of the partisan media in recent decades. But Rush Limbaugh and Fox News aren’t even necessary for most Republicans to disagree with the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists; all it takes is for voters to tend to accept what high-visibility Republicans are saying.

What’s harder to answer is why movement conservatives have accepted that view, and why the rest of high-visibility Republicans go along. This goes back to the theme of the broken and post-policy Republican Party. Healthy parties seek the best policy results they can for constituency groups and party-aligned interest groups. Republicans, however, have put an inordinate amount of energy into demonstrations of ideological purity, and have at least flirted with the idea that compromise and deal-making are themselves inherent signs of ideological failure.

Moreover, the success of a decades-long effort to demonize the neutral press and to build a parallel information structure has left even elite-level Republicans at risk of falling into a closed information feedback loop, in which they don’t realize how far from the mainstream some of their views might be.

When politicians are more interested in proving they aren’t RINOs than in cutting the best available deal for their interest groups, things can go seriously off the rails. All the more so when sensible party politicians see only downsides in challenging even the goofiest things that extremists propose. And when party leaders speak with one voice, the party rank-and-file will follow.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net