In a National Journal Poll (pdf file), Democratic and Republican House and Senate members were asked the following question: "Do you think it's been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made problems?" The unsurprising results suggest that ideology is a very strong screen through which partisans interpret science. From the National Journal:
Eighty-eight percent of the Democrats supported mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions, with just a slightly smaller percentage supporting a market-based cap-and-trade system. Among Republicans, just 19 percent supported mandatory limits on CO2, but 42 percent actually supported the cap-and-trade system.
As Michael Nisbet points out in his excellent "Framing Science" blog, the differences in public opinions about global warming are "a combined result of strong opinion-cues from party leaders and the ideological safe zones created by Fox News, political talk radio, the WSJ, conservative columnists, and other right-wing venues."
The hang-up for Republicans in the poll seems to have been the words, "beyond a reasonable doubt." Many acknowledged that the climate was warming, and that humans may be playing a role. But they balked at the idea that the science is settled — at least on the overall question of human culpability for climate change. It looks like the poll was conducted before the release of the IPCC report. Even so, it is striking that such a large majority of the country's leaders repudiate the judgement of most of the scientific community.
What this suggests is that even though the scientific debate over 'global warming: yes or no' is over, debate over policy responses is likely to be extremely intense and partisan in coming years. This raises a critical question for journalists: Who is going to take the lead in covering these issues? Will it be environmental journalists, who have the scientific grounding as well as the breadth of knowledge of other fields, such as economics and policy, to cover the debates effectively and with sophistication? Or will it be political journalists, many of whom think issues consist of only two sides, red and blue, and likely will not have the knowledge to integrate the science, economics and policy? I suspect it will be the latter. Maybe it's time to start lobbying editors for a team approach to covering the politics of global warming.