It may sound odd, but Republicans might be more persuasive than scientists when it comes to dispelling myths about climate change.
A new study from the University of Connecticut has found that Americans are more likely to accept facts about climate change when they come from Republicans, rather than Democrats or scientists.
And this holds true whether people identify as a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent.
"For science issues such as climate change, we might expect scientists to be a credible and neutral authority," said co-author Salil Benegal, a recent PhD graduate.
"However, partisanship increasingly influences perceptions of scientific credibility."
This is especially true in the US, where the Republican party has become increasingly aligned with climate change denial.
As such, the issue of climate change has become unusually partisan. While Democrats have largely accepted the scientific consensus on climate change, Republicans that feel the same are few and far between.
But this is exactly what makes Republicans such persuasive communicators.
Because even though scientists are experts on climate change facts, facts alone are not enough to change people's minds.
"Unfortunately, correcting misinformation is much harder than simply providing 'facts'," said co-author Lyle Scruggs, a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut.
In the new study, Scruggs and Benegal gathered together 1,341 Americans of all political persuasions to talk about climate change.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats in this group were found to express the highest level of scientific agreement and the highest level of concern over climate change.
After reading a statement denying climate change, participants were presented with counter-facts, like the strong scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that it is primarily caused by humans.
These counter-facts were attributed to either Republicans, Democrats, or non-partisan scientists.
This is where it gets interesting.
The study found that people were more likely to change their views on climate change when the counter-facts were presented by Republicans, rather than Democrats or non-partisan scientists.
And while this may seem odd at first, the authors have a logical theory. They hypothesize that Republicans who make such statemetns are engaging in "more potentially costly behavior" that lends them "additional persuasive value."
In other words, when Republicans speak out against partisan interests, they put themselves on the line both socially and politically.
As a result, Republican opinions on climate change are considered more persuasive - because breaking solidarity with a party requires such conviction.
The new study has important implications for climate change communication. It suggests that arming Republicans with climate change facts could be the best way to diminish the partisan gap on climate change.
"Citing Republican elites who endorse the scientific consensus on climate change may be the most effective way to persuade citizens that climate change is a real and important problem," said Scruggs.
"That may be a step forward in reducing the partisan gap in public opinion on the subject."
Now, we just need to find all those Republicans who want to speak out against climate denial.
The study was published in Climatic Change.
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