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Study: Link between climate skepticism and support for right-wing populists

Clear evidence of a link between people supporting right-wing political parties and climate-change scepticism has been identified in a new study from the University of Oxford and the Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences.

Based on  and tracking web browsing histories from more than 9,000 participants in six countries, including the UK and the US, the Oxford Internet Institute study finds several significant differences in attitudes towards  between supporters of populist parties and non-supporters. The study also highlights variations in the websites and content regularly used by supporters and those who do not support the parties.

The researchers found support for right-wing parties is strongly linked to scepticism on  and opposition to climate-friendly policies. The study did not find a link between support for left-wing populist parties and , but did observe respondents with less interest in political issues were more likely to be climate-change sceptics.

The study, “Is there a link between Climate Change Scepticism and Populism?” by Dr. Pu Yan, Professor Ralph Schroeder, and Sebastian Stier, is the first of its kind to test four hypotheses concerning political attitudes, climate activism, and online media diets and consumption, to see to what extent those variables have an impact on climate change scepticism.

Dr. Pu Yan, researcher, lead author said, “Our research shows supporters of right-wing  favour policies to tackle climate change to a significantly lesser extent than supporters of other parties. Whilst such parties might have a range of views, the common denominator is that they distrust the scientific consensus…”

The researchers also examined the media habits of supporters and non-supporters of populist parties, tracking over 150 million website visits over three months.

Key findings include:

  • Supporters of left-wing and right-wing populist parties are more likely to visit news websites for climate change information than non-supporters of populist parties.
  • Science related websites account for over a tenth (11%) of non-news domains visited by right-wing populist party supporters.
  • Non-supporters of populist parties more likely to visit non-news  domains such as climate-related organisations websites

Professor Ralph Schroeder noted, “Our study shows that populists are highly interested in the politics of climate change. They seek a coherent worldview that bolsters their ideas about climate change and the science of climate change, so that it fits their overall political agenda…further research is needed to investigate the link between the evolving populist party cues about  change and the beliefs of their supporters and more broadly, concerning their trust in online information and the fundamental structures of democracy.”