How the Tea Party changed the climate debate
Even though their views are at odds with the vast majority of climate scientists, Tea Partiers are also by far the most confident in their beliefs — more likely to say they are “very well informed” and that they “do not need any more information about global warming.” Note that this dovetails with earlier research finding that when you give those dismissive of global warming more information, it only serves to harden their doubts.
Tea Party types are also much, much more likely to have tracked the ins and outs of Climategate (a 2009 uproar over some pilfered and subsequently misinterpreted e-mails from a small research unit in Britain) than anyone else in America. A lot of commentators have suggested that Climategate sowed doubts about the integrity of climatologists among the broader public, but the affair mostly just appears to have fortified the resolve of a small cadre of deniers.
Yet even though climate skeptics constitute a minority of the population, they can still have a disproportionate impact. Researchers on cognitive social networks at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently found that “when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.” It’s easy to think of counterexamples here (did the small core of birthers really win majority support?), but there does seem to be a tipping point at which a minority idea catches on broadly. The minority just has to believe what it believes with a fervent intensity.