Political Alignment And Environmental Concern
Understanding what makes people care about a given issue is at the heart of what it means to be an advocate, and one of the seemingly biggest factors in what – or at least how – people make decisions about what they care about, is through their political affiliations. In American politics, for example, republicans are more likely to value the freedom to carry guns, while democrats tend to favour more controls of firearms. Still, it’s not always clear if people gravitate towards a particular party or ideology because of what they already want, or if their membership to a particular group may dictate their beliefs.
Concern over the environment (which could and often does include wild animals) has grown in recent years; studying how political affiliation (to a particular party) and political ideology (beliefs in certain values) affects care for the environment has been ongoing since the 70s, when research found that there was “optimism that environmentalism might serve as a nonpartisan issue” in the U.S. and that both parties were “certain to favor quality environment, to oppose pollution, to support conservation, and to admit the need to control population.” While that was the hope in the 70s, such a utopian consensus has not panned out. Further studies found that there was little correlation between party affiliation and concern, and others actually found Republicans to generally be more concerned than democrats. In recent years, there is evidence of a “widening gap” between republicans and democrats on environmental issues, specifically with climate change, including both its existence and causes.
In this particular paper, researchers wanted to conduct a meta-analysis of papers published on the topic of political affiliation and the environment, and to understand possible variables. The authors note that there are three major threads in published data that suggest that “level of education, the measure of environmental concern used, and the year of data collection” may play a big role in the level of concern people show. They used a wide variety of databases for their search and ultimately found nearly 70 studies to meta-analyze.
Their study found that both party affiliation and ideological position had an effect on environmental concern, with ideology having a stronger effect. Furthermore, the relationship between concern and ideology is “unmoderated,” while the relationship between concern and party affiliation was moderated by the year, and possibly also the education level of the people being studied: after 1990, political affiliation had more of an effect, and more educated samples tended to produce stronger effect sizes.
Overall, the results provide an important synthesis for advocates to ponder. The authors note that “partisan sorting, not issue polarization” is what has occurred on this issue. Does this mean that it is now forever a partisan issue, an unbridgeable gap? There may still be time to shift that discourse, before positions become calcified.