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The influence of political leaders on climate change attitudes

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 16:54 authored by Kousser, T, Bruce TranterBruce Tranter
Is public opinion on global climate change stable, with voters holding deeply rooted attitudes that guide them to consistent policy positions? Or is public opinion malleable, with voters adjusting their environmental positions when they learn about the positions of political leaders? To explore whether leaders can influence mass opinion on climate change, we conduct a pair of survey experiments in Australia. Emissions trading plans and renewable energy targets have been central issues in Australian politics over the last decade, with the members of the major parties deeply polarized on these issues. Our experiments reveal that survey respondents take different positions on climate change policy when they learn what positions leaders hold. When respondents learn that leaders take divergent positions on addressing climate change, they become more polarized along party lines. But when leaders converge on a policy proposal, they also bring those who follow them into closer agreement, providing evidence that partisan polarization at the mass level can be overcome when leaders come together on environmental policies.


Publication title

Global Environmental Change








School of Social Sciences


Elsevier Sci Ltd

Place of publication

The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox5 1Gb

Rights statement

Copyright 2018 Elsevier Ltd.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Social impacts of climate change and variability

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