It’s their subtle way of disagreeing with the science of climate change without actually disagreeing. In the Hardened mythos of the GOP there’s a lot of projection going on - the rank and file Republicans think that most of the country is like their political environs and neighbors, and thus only scientists, and not any ‘real people” believe that climate change is real and man made. So when a GOP pol says “I’m not a scientist” the shorthand is “I’m not a scientist, I’m a real person — so I don’t believe in man made global warming.” It’s a way of sneering at science and scientists to the party zealots and billionaire financiers without appearing to do so in front of the general public.
“It’s got to be the dumbest answer I’ve ever heard,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who has advised House Republicans and conservative political advocacy groups on energy and climate change messaging. “Using that logic would disqualify politicians from voting on anything. Most politicians aren’t scientists, but they vote on science policy. They have opinions on Ebola, but they’re not epidemiologists. They shape highway and infrastructure laws, but they’re not engineers.”
Jon A. Krosnick, who conducts polls on public attitudes on climate change at Stanford, finds the phrase perplexing. “What’s odd about this ‘I’m not a scientist’ line is that there’s nothing in the data we’ve seen to suggest that this helps a candidate,” Mr. Krosnick said. “We can’t find a single state where the majority of voters are skeptical. To say, ‘I’m not a scientist’ is like saying, ‘I’m not a parakeet.’ Everyone knows that it just means, ‘I’m not going to talk about this.’ “
But Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, said that while debate moderators and editorial boards may continue to press the climate change question, the issue does not resonate with voters. He pointed to a Pew Research Center poll showing that Americans rank climate change near the bottom of policy concerns.