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Republicans trust voter modelling - why not climate modelling?

Tuesday, November 6 was a game changer. The Republican Party in the United States has come to understand that the political environment has been altered. White males can no longer dictate the results of…

After defeat in the 2012 election, it is back to the drawing board for the Republican Party. But will they address the true concerns of the electorate? EPA/STEPHAN SAVOIA/POOL

Tuesday, November 6 was a game changer. The Republican Party in the United States has come to understand that the political environment has been altered. White males can no longer dictate the results of an election. The dynamics of the voting electorate have changed dramatically, and they will only continue to do so.

It is safe to assume that conservatives who drive the agenda of the Republican Party “get it”. They are not stupid; indeed, they are quite sophisticated. They understand politics and they will respond to a changing environment.

So why are they so resistant to the idea of a changing climate? This may be an odd question at this point. Ignoring the evidence about a changing climate that puts increasing numbers of people in risk is folly – just as ignoring the changing demographic in critical states has already proven to be.

I can only hope that the Republican Party has learnt something and that those lessons will inform their opinions of how to cope, and not just with a dynamic electorate. My question is: why not apply the same lessons to respond to the dynamic components of the global environment?

Let me be specific.

A new wave of pollsters informed by some very sophisticated understanding of social science, worked on their models over the past year or so. They understood that the political environment was dynamic, they deciphered why and they then incorporated thoise insights into their projections of the future.

They took quite a bit of heat about being biased in their projections, but they turned out to be right! And that is the standard to be applied. Their advantage was that they had a definitive date when reality could be compared with model projections, and they did very well.

Climate scientists have also been working on their own models of the climate - the physical rather than the political. They have come to understand that the portrait of a warming planet is displayed most graphically in the distribution of extreme weather events. Not just hurricanes like Sandy but also droughts, wildfires and extreme precipitation events like the four and a half inches that fell on my deck in the summer of 2011 in 35 minutes.

They too have been criticised, butioi they do not have the benefit of a date certain in the foreseeable future when all will be revealed. That is to say, they do not have an “election day”.

Even so, why don’t Republicans recognise the parallel of changing environments – political on the one hand and climatic on the other? Republicans are beginning to reorganise their party on the basis of election results that can be attributed to demographic changes.

So why not also begin to reorganise their approach on the basis of observed changes in the frequency of extreme weather events, that can be attributed to climate change? There are “confounding factors” in both correlations, but why do they believe one conclusion more than another? Probably because the consequences to the Party are larger in the political case than they are in the climate case, at least in the short run. But… t Why can they not recognise that the climate system is just as dynamic as the political environment, and that the “old normals” are broken in both places?

That would be a first step in working toward perhaps the most significant compromise with a re-elected President, who included in his acceptance speech the statement, “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

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23 Comments sorted by

  1. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    This is rich vein of academic inquiry opening up before our eyes

    How about: "Republicans believe in models in the fashion industry, why not models in climate science?"

    I guess American Democrats should party like it is 1993 [in Australia]. How many column inches of newsprint were dedicated to the proposal that Keating's victory meant the coalition would never win again?

    Although the thought of Rick Santorum in 2016 is a horrifying prospect even for hardened political cynic like me.

  2. Tim Scanlon


    I think that the US elections show the Republicans were cherry picking their own data, whether to fool themselves or to appeal to their funders. The ultra-conservative and religious nut-cases were disproportionately represented in the GOP nominations process, the pandering to that section of the voters was also present. But when it comes time to talk to normal people and be elected by them, normal people reject that.

    One issue was picked up by Rachael Maddow, women's rights, specifically birth control. Polling was done on this topic and found that over 95% of republican women supported birth control and they made up roughly half of the voting pool of the republican support base. This was a topic that swung female voters away from republican candidates, such that 55% of the female vote went to Obama.

    So watch for more progressive shifts in America, because republicans will have to start admitting that they are alienating their base with their "out there" views.

    1. Ron Chinchen

      Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Well said Tim. I must admit watching the elections and seeing the potential of Paul Ryan getting hold of power, albeit as vice president, concerned me deeply.

      The Tea Party crazies over there seem to have gained a disproportionate amount of power in the Republican Party and fortunately seemed to cruelled any chance that they had of winning.

      Unfortunately, like with our One Nation party started by a very naive Pauline Hanson, such simplistic arguments espoused by these people, seem to attract a lot of the misinformed in society, touching on issues at an emotional rather than logical level as well as being caught up in a religious belief in their own rightness.

      Fortunately enough people in the USA also saw the danger of such a dangerous direction.

  3. Mike Hansen


    Follow the money. All 1 trillion $ of it.

    " If you’ve ever wondered exactly why the global coal industry has argued so vehemently – first against the science of climate change and secondly against doing anything about it – the International Energy Agency lays it all out in its latest World Energy Outlook.

    Basically, the WEO data suggests, there are a trillion reasons for the global coal lobby to resist change. That’s one trillion dollars each and every year – the loss in annual revenue for the coal industry if the world takes serious action to prevent global warming, rather than just continuing on in business-as-usual."

    1. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      The only reason that the coal industry resists change Mr Hansen, is because people who claim they believe in climate change and the need to stop burning fossil fuels, continue to switch on the power switch. The result - the coal fired generators keep spinning.

      Next you will be telling me that we should stop flying in order to stop burning JetA1 fossil fuel...

      But that is story for another time.

      Gerard 'Denier' Dean

    2. Michael Pulsford

      Lecturer, RMIT School Of Art

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      @Gerard: 'Only' is a little strong, isn't it? My guess - and please correct me if you have better information, because it's only a guess - is that people who claim they believe in climate change are more likely to pay for power from non-fossil sources than are people who make no such claim.

      I'd also wager that even if everyone who claimed to believe in climate change started buying greener electricity, the coal industry would still resist change. (I'd be happy to lose the wager, though.)

      I agree with you that we should all fly less.

    3. Jack Bloomfield

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      This article by Doug Friedenberg explains it very eloquently:-

      "If you’re a Republican, there’s a 75% chance that you disbelieve the scientific evidence behind the concerns about climate change. If you’re a Democrat, a 75% chance that you accept that evidence. Considering that the facts are out there in abundance, the discrepancy is, on the surface, mystifying. It’s more mystifying that there was NO discrepancy between party affiliation and view of climate science a mere fifteen years ago."

  4. Dennis Singer


    The guy running "unskewedpolls" who threw out good data until his projections showed that Romney would cruise to victory, coupled with the demeaning ad-hominem attacks on a statistician with a good track record, Nate Silver, are examples illustrating a key strategy of the right-wing assertion-based movement:
    that if a notion is presented often enough, from many different angles that always come back to the same point, magically that notion becomes reality.

    That is, they have a strong faith…

    Read more
  5. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    Why the story about the Republicans?

    Surely, the author should comment on the President Obama's record on cutting fossil fuel usage in the USA.

    Don't be silly Gerard.

    Gerard Dean

    1. Account Deleted

      logged in via email

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      President Obama HAS significantly cut fossil fuel usage in the USA through upgraded fuel efficiency standards and enforcing the EPA ruling that CO2 is a pollutant, which is taking inefficient coal-fired generators offline. Every year, he has asked congress to cut $4 billion in subsidies for fossil fuel producers (they always refuse). You can read what the fossil fuel industry thinks of him here:

  6. Les McNamara


    Q. Republicans trust voter modelling – why not climate modelling?

    A. Vested interest.

    1. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Les McNamara

      Bingo! And the result will be the same. reality will mug them. Only problem is those of us who do accept the reality of climate change will also suffer the consequences.

  7. Michael Shand
    Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Tester

    These people are bigots and idealouges, they have no interest in facts

  8. Erik Streed

    Senior Lecturer in Physics at Griffith University

    I believe the author has misinterepreted what has occurred. Consider it from a Republican perspective. The models didn't work. They were very confident. Had top people on the job. There was definite consensus within their group of analysts they had things locked down and that Nate Silver & the Democrats were using the wrong voter pool. Mitt even bought fireworks.

    That their modeling didn't work ironically just proves their very point on climate change. These things are unreliable and can't be…

    Read more
    1. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Erik Streed

      "That their modeling didn't work ironically just proves their very point on climate change. These things are unreliable and can't be trusted" - Ummmmmm except you argument is that because repubs had bias models it shows that models dont work....

      There is a difference between Modelling not working and a specific model not working. When a specific model doesnt work the problem is with that model....not the idea of modelling.

      I predicted on the morning of the election that Obama would win with 290 based off the polling data and analysis I had seen....despite the mainstream and repubs screaming about how close it was.....he won by 303 - turns out facts and numbers are useful, turns out modelling works, the fact that the repubs ignored the data is a point against their ignorance not against modelling

    2. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Erik Streed

      BTW the prediction was posted on an article in the conversation

      Modelling works - being an idealouge and ignoring facts doesnt

  9. Peter Ormonde


    Ah ... you'd be expecting folks to be rational and consistent then would you? These folks in particular? Belief - what we choose to believe - is driven by a curious mixture of comfort and hope.

    I actually don't think there is any "dissonance" between the GOP's faith in favourable polling and their disbelief of climate change warnings. They seized on polls that provided comfort and hope and they reject those analyses that throw their assumptions and hopes into question. And then the unthinkable…

    Read more
  10. Jeff Haddrick

    field manager

    Gary - I think you're overlooking a fundamental difference about the perceived impact of these modelling results, even if the voter polling is taken on board.
    Voter modelling results will be seen as a way to win an election (short term objective) and give the go-ahead for pursuing $ wealth by traditional means.
    Climate modelling results will remain as seen to be about a long distance possibility, the implication of which, threaten the pursuit of $ wealth by traditional means, and therefore ignored.
    The links between the polls are the reasons that those of limited vision will embrace one and reject the other - dollars - traditional.

  11. Ian David


    I'm no scientist. I've tried to follow the unfolding debate over global warming in the press and whatever books I can find addressed to people like me without much physics or maths. One thing I think I understand is that our atmosphere is storing much more energy than it used to. Now, we call that global warming, but wouldn't it be more accurate to say that the system isn't necessarily getting hotter, but rather that the system's responding to higher levels of trapped energy? This climb in energy is driving the system into instability. Yes, there's an increase in mean temperatures, but the bigger picture is that there are more extremes in temperature, rain, storms and droughts? More of everything except moderation. Calling the situation 'global warming' just gives any casual sceptic the opportunity to challenge the science any time there's a bit of snow or a week of cold weather.

  12. Peter Lang

    Retired geologist and engineer

    Consider how selective and twisted is the articles title. It c;early reveals the ideological bias of the editor/sensor.

    Why didn't she write the title as:

    "Lefties don't trust voter modelling so why do they trust climate modelling?"

    Or better still, "Why do Lefties trust climate modelling".

    Or, "Why are Lefties irrational?

    Or "why are Lefties, gullible?"

    Or "why do Lefties despise religion but are zealots about their Eco religious beliefs?"

    1. Ian David


      In reply to Peter Lang

      Perhaps, Peter, because all those title suggestions are gross generalisations, akin to "Why are all geologists stuck in the drying mud of their own myopia?"

    2. Mike Hansen


      In reply to Peter Lang

      @Peter Lang

      I actually thought the article's title was being very kind to Republicans. The whole world has been having a huge belly laugh at the expense of those Fox News inspired Republicans who in the lead up to the election pilloried as a left-wing plot, the poll models and modellers that had been showing for months that Obama was a clear favourite to win.

      Romney wrote his victory speech, his team released his transition web-site, Karl Rove had a melt- down on Fox News when Ohio was declared for Obama - because they refused to accept what everyone else knew - the maths and the data pointed to a Obama victory.

      Climate change denial like Poll denial will eventually lead to a rude shock for those people who live in the Fox News unreality bubble.

    3. Ron Chinchen

      Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

      In reply to Peter Lang

      I'm sure that FOX NEWS considered the result a commie plot. That means not only is Obama a socialist, he's obviously a muslim plant (a variation on the Homeland plot no doubt), a communist, a pinko leftie with an intend to bring America to its knees. Gosh and he even wants to make a more equitable system of wealth, health, education and establish workable relationships with other nations rather than going to war with them etc. Its the end of the world