Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Thinking about Political Orientation and Risk Perception

I found this graph in a Mother Jones article on risk perception. The point of the article is that people of all political perceptions tend to have similar perception that the risk from childhood vaccines is low. Good to read.

The graph also shows, however, that attitudes on the risks of gun ownership, global warming and marijuana legislation differ greatly according to one's political orientation.

Climate Change

I think that few of us understand the science of global warming. So our concern for the risk that it poses depends in part on our knowledge of the warnings of scientists who have studied the issue; a huge majority of these scientists believe human activities are causing a rapid release of greenhouse gasses which are causing global warming. Concern for the risk of global warming also must relate to the time scale in which one thinks, since the change will increase over decades (and centuries) and there is likely to be little damage in the next decade that can be certainly attributed to climate change.

We also know that reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will have costs, and those costs are likely to affect the bottom line of oil companies and other large corporations negatively. They have been conducting a campaign for "the hearts and  minds" of the public. So perhaps conservative citizens are more likely to give credence to the corporate messages than are liberal citizens.

Moreover, denying climate change has come to be a political platform for conservatives. Perhaps there is cognitive dissonance if one were to believe one was a conservative and also to believe in anthropogenic climate change, and that people change one or the other belief to reduce that dissonance. (Indeed, I think it has been suggested that they will change the belief that is less central to the person's concept of his/her own identity.)

Guns and Pot

There is an experiential element in these areas that differs from the preceding ones. People who own and use guns probably have developed a certain belief that they can do so safely; I certainly did in the years when I was a gun owner, target shooter and occasional hunter. I suspect that people who have used a lot of marijuana also tend to believe that they did so safely, and that it is at least as safe as alcoholic drinks and tobacco that are sold freely to adults.

There is a gun industry, and it does support the NRA and its efforts to prevent regulation of firearms. There is also a body of easily available information that indicates that guns cause a great many wounds and deaths in this country, and that the level of such dangers is much lower than in countries that strongly regulate private ownership of firearms. As in the case of climate change, opposition to gun regulation has become a plank in conservative platforms, and the effects of industry, the organized lobbyists and conservative politicians are more effective with conservatives than with liberals.

I suspect Nixon's War on Drugs was an effective conservative political strategy that continues to divide liberals and conservatives. That seems to be changing according to results from the Pew Research Center:

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