Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A self identified Libertarian who believes in “aggressive” carbon taxes thinks ordinary Republicans can be persuaded to embrace his ideas if the party leadership tell them what to do.
How the science of persuasion could change the politics of climate change
Conservatives have to make the case to conservatives, and a growing number of them are.
by James Temple April 16, 2018
Jerry Taylor believes he can change the minds of conservative climate skeptics. After all, he helped plant the doubts for many in the first place.
Taylor spent years as a professional climate denier at the Cato Institute, arguing against climate science, regulations, and treaties in op-eds, speeches, and media appearances. But his perspective slowly began to change around the turn of the century, driven by the arguments of several economists and legal scholars laying out the long-tail risks of global warming.
Now he’s president of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-leaning Washington, DC, think tank he founded in 2014. He and his colleagues there are trying to build support for the passage of an aggressive federal carbon tax, through discussions with Washington insiders, with a particular focus on Republican legislators and their staff.
Lesson 1: Pick the right targets
Political scientists consistently find that mass opinion doesn’t drive the policy debate so much as the other way around. Partisan divides emerge first among “elites,” including influential advocacy groups, high-profile commentators, and politicians, says Megan Mullin, an associate professor of environmental politics at Duke University.
They, in turn, set the terms of debate in the public mind, spreading the parties’ views through tested and refined sound bites in media appearances, editorials, social media, and other forums.
For the most part, people first align themselves with groups, often political parties, that appeal to them on the basis of their own experiences, demographics, and social networks. They then entrust the recognized leaders of their self-selected tribe to sort out the details of dense policy and science for them, while vigorously rejecting arguments that seem to oppose their ideologies—in part because such arguments also effectively attack their identity.
I suspect Jerry is over-estimating the influence of “elites” on their followers.
I doubt the Republican establishment was keen on President Trump winning the Republican nomination, but somehow he went and did it anyway.
The article itself cites an example of a green Republican who was successfully challenged in a primary by a Tea Party candidate.
Hillary Clinton was the Democrat establishment favourite by a wide margin. But on election day many registered Democrats did not vote for her, despite an expensive election campaign establishing her credentials as one of the Democrat elite.
In Australia and Britain establishment Conservatives have suffered a haemorrhage of support to minor parties like UKIP and One Nation, because their elites are trying to push voters in a direction many of them are unwilling to travel.
If there are no decent choices on offer, people sometimes hold their noses and vote for the least worst candidate. But history has repeatedly demonstrated how quickly support for “elites” can crumble if someone who faithfully articulates the concerns of ordinary people steps up.