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Energy Research & Social Science
Volume 70, 2020, 101769

The politics of decarbonization: Examining conservative partisanship and differential support for climate change science and renewable energy in Utah

Shawn O.Hazbouna, Peter D.Howeb, D.Layne Coppockb, Jennifer E.Givensc

Graduate Program on the Environment, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA, USA.


Public opinion about climate change is sharply polarized in the U.S., where Republicans and political conservatives are significantly more likely to doubt the threat and severity of global climate change than Democrats and liberals. However, opinion polls have consistently shown that support for renewable energy – an essential climate mitigation strategy – is far more widespread across the U.S. public and is significantly less politically polarizing. We examine the role of partisanship and partisan identity in individuals’ stances toward climate change, renewable energy, and policy using a mixed methods approach including survey data (n = 1508) and semi-structured interviews of political conservatives (n = 26). We find that while political divisions exist for climate change views and renewable energy usage and policy support, partisanship was significantly less important for renewable energy support. Our interview data reveal that many, but not all, aspects of renewable energy are compatible with conservative political identity, while far fewer aspects of climate change are acceptable across the political spectrum. This study has implications for engendering public support for renewable energy development amongst conservatives and suggests that the less renewable energy is discursively and politically linked to climate mitigation, the broader support its expansion will have.

Keywords: Partisanship, Identity, Climate change, Renewable energy, Mixed methods.

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