There is a strong link between climate scepticism and support for right-wing populist political parties, according to a new study from the University of Oxford and Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences.

The study combined the internet browsing history of over 9,000 participants in six countries including the USA and UK with survey data to establish whether there was a link between support for populist parties and climate scepticism. Over 15,000 website visits were tracked over three months.

Four variables were tested to see if they had any link with climate scepticism: political attitudes, awareness of climate change as a result of the efforts of climate activists, the media outlets subjects relied on, and the content of those outlets with regards to climate change.

The research was inspired by the rise of populist parties in the UK and USA, which often opposed efforts to put combating climate change at the top of the political agenda. The study defined climate ‘sceptics’ as people who denied anthropogenic climate change, which is caused by human activity. According to NASA, at least 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that the trend of global warming over the previous century is caused by human activity.

Dr Pu Yan, the lead author of the paper, commented: “Our research shows supporters of right-wing political parties favour policies to tackle climate change to a significantly lesser extent than supporters of other parties.  Whilst such parties might have a range of views, the common denominator is that they distrust the scientific consensus.”

Unlike right-wing populist parties, no link between supporting left-wing populists and climate scepticism was identified. The study also found that non-populists who were less interested in politics were more likely to be climate sceptics than populists.

The study also found that right-wing populists were over twice as likely as their left-wing counterparts to visit “hyper-partisan news domains”, making up 20.83% of their most visited websites compared to 9.52%.

Professor Ralph Schroeder, another author of the study, commented: “Our study shows that populists are highly interested in the politics of climate change.  They seek a coherent worldview that bolsters their ideas about climate change and the science of climate change, so that it fits their overall political agenda.” Further research is needed to ascertain any link between climate scepticism and a lack of faith in democratic structures.

Image: Kerstin Langenberger/CC. BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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