Gallup Finds: Among Conservatives, Education Increases False Belief

Eric Zuesse

100% agreement among scientists does not exist on anything, not even on basic laws of physics; but there are some scientific topics where the degree of expert consensus is near 100%, and human-caused (or “anthropogenic”) global warming is one of them, with more than 97% of the scientific experts in the field agreeing that this phenomenon is real. (See this paper, which is the most-rigorous study to-date, of expert opinion on the subject, quantifying the extent of this consensus; this is a study of 11,944 papers that have been published on the matter, and it finds that more than 97% of the peer-reviewed papers that have expressed an opinion on whether “anthropogenic global warming” exists, have said that it does.)

Consequently, a poll which was published by Gallup on 26 March 2015 is especially fascinating, because it correlates political ideology plus education-level, with acceptance of this particular scientific consensus; the poll-report’s title is: “College-Educated Republicans Most Skeptical of Global Warming.” It says that: “Republicans with higher levels of education are more likely than those in their parties [it should be the singular noun here, ‘party’] with less education to say that the seriousness of global warming is ‘generally exaggerated.’ By contrast, Democrats with some college or more are less likely than those with less education to believe the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated.”

In the United States, there happens to be extraordinary ideological polarization by political party, with almost all conservatives preferring the Republican Party, and almost all progressives preferring the Democratic Party, whenever an electoral choice between those two parties is offered and the time has come for citizens to register a vote at their ballot box. Consequently, the Republican-Democratic distinction is a fair and very practical measure of conservative-progressive orientations among the U.S. population. (This isn’t to say that the Democratic Party is progressive, just that it’s not nearly as consistently conservative as is the Republican Party — and this Gallup poll provides yet further confirmation to that.)

Here, then, are the exact findings, by Gallup, in this poll: 74% of Republicans with a college degree say that human-caused global warming is exaggerated, compared to 57% of Republicans with only a high-school education or less.

By contrast, among Democrats: only 15% of Democrats with a college degree say that human-caused global warming is exaggerated, compared to 27% of Democrats with merely a high-school education or less.

So: more education moves Republicans further into fantasyland, where they already are, and moves Democrats further into reality, where they aready are.

So: not only are a vastly higher percentage of Democrats than of Republicans accepting the overwhelming (97+%) scientific consensus; but, when the findings are further broken down by education-level, the resultant finding is that whereas among Democrats, education increases truthful beliefs, the opposite is the case among Republicans: education increases false beliefs, among Republicans.

This finding adds further weight to the finding that was reported in a classic study in empirical psychology, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” published in 2003, by four famous researchers. They found that conservatives absorb information that supports their particular opinions, but filter out and ignore information that contradicts their opinions. They called this phenomenon “motivated social cognition”; and, whereas this phenomenon exists to some extent among all people, they found that it exists far more among conservatives than among non-conservatives. Among non-conservatives, there exists enough open-mindedness to enable education to improve the accuracy of the given individual’s beliefs. That is also what this new Gallup poll is finding: whereas conservatives just become more dead-set in their false beliefs the more information they encounter; non-conservatives actually tend even in the exact opposite direction — to change their minds, when they encounter evidence that contradicts what they had formerly believed.

(To explain this: For conservatives, the confirmatory ‘information’ that they pay attention to is usually not actual data that confirm the given belief, but is instead another person’s opinion that ‘confims’ his or her own opinion — it’s merely opinion that’s built on opinions instead of on actual data. That’s how myths are passed around and ‘supported.’ And myths are especially important to conservatives.)

Actually, there are lots of empirical studies that lend further weight to this view: There is an overwhelming body of empirical literature that shows that the more conservative a person is, the more bigoted he or she is likely to be. Again: conservatives, far more than non-conservatives, just filter out what doesn’t fit their existing beliefs. Also, see this, and this.

All of the evidence supports the view that conservatism is basically a falsehood-sustaining belief-methodology. That’s what it’s really all about: sustaining false beliefs.

And that’s why the opposite of conservatism is progressivism: change toward a truer view of the world. That’s what progress is. That’s what it consists of.

And that’s why progressives tend to have truer beliefs than conservatives do.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity, and of Feudalism, Fascism, Libertarianism and Economics.

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