Elites Losing Climate and Gun Argument

Michael Barone (via Glenn Reynolds) argues that elites are “out of touch” on climate change and gun control:

Many years ago, political scientists came up with a theory that elites lead public opinion. And on some issues, they clearly do. But on some issues, they don’t. Two examples of the latter phenomenon are conspicuous at a time when Barack Obama enjoys the approval of more than 60 percent of Americans and Democrats have won thumping majorities in two elections in a row. One is global warming. The other is gun control. On both issues, the elites of academe, the media and big business have been solidly on one side for years. But on both, the American public has been moving in the other direction.

One could argue that these are cases where counter-elites are exceedingly well organized and have fought back with counter-propaganda. Regardless, they’re obviously cases where the elites have failed to dominate the debate.

Over the past decade, the Gallup organization has been asking Americans whether the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated or generally correct. From 1998 to 2007, except for the run-up to the 2004 election, they said it was generally serious by roughly a 2-1 margin — 66 to 30 percent in 2006, for example. But in March 2009, that margin slipped to only 57 to 41 percent, with two-thirds of Republicans and nearly half of independents saying concern is exaggerated.

Actually, this is a rather bizarre cherry picking of the data. What the March poll tells us is that people are more concerned about the economy than they are about the environment during the worst economic crisis in generations.  Indeed, Frank Newport‘s report is titled “Americans: Economy Takes Precedence Over Environment – First time majority has supported economy in 25 years of asking question.”

Still, as Newport’s April 2008 report makes clear, the overall concern about global warming has been essentially static for two decades.

This, not the bogus comparison in relative intensity, is a much better indication that the elites have failed to win this battle.  On the other hand, a related question shows the people who think global warming “will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime” has increased from 25 percent to 40 percent over that period.

The difference is even more stark on guns, as Gallup‘s various trendlines show.  The most relevant question has seen a steady decline since 1991:

Furthermore, gun ownership has fluctuated considerably since 1960, starting from a high of 49 percent, going as low as 34 percent in 2000, but is back to 42 percent today.

FILED UNDER: Environment, Guns and Gun Control, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. odograph says:

    The poll asked the wrong question. AGW is not about “worry,” it is about “responsiblity.”

    I don’t worry about it, but I do think I have a responsibility.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s probably just a coincidence that the percentage of gun owners is 42% and the percentage of those who favor leaving gun control laws as they are is 41%.

  3. JKB says:

    Well, if Dave’s coincidence is true then the gun control issue is definitely swinging away from the grabbers.

    Sturm, Ruger’s corporate report, in pdf. Firearm sales up 55%, production up 69%, but not keeping pace with demand, backorders are up to nearly half a million firearms. And “we hear anecdotally from retailers that a significant portion of their customers are new and often buying their very first firearm.”

    All possible causally related to the greatest gun salesman of all time. You got to admit, Obama can really breath new life into an industry.

  4. sam says:

    Michael Barone (via Glenn Reynolds) argues

    Most informed folks could stop reading right there.

  5. Raoul says:

    “Elites” do not care one iota about gun ownership (recall Carl Rowan).

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Sam, informed by who? The propaganda machines of the left? Sam, the America hating institutions of higher (as in drugs) education? Were you informed by Robert Gibbs, algore or just which swami told you, you infomeister you. I have lived in the town I live in since 1956. It was hottest in 1964 with a record high temperature of 113 degrees. If we are experiencing global warming as a result of the expulsion of carbon dioxide, I suggest you on the left tape off the orifices where you personally spew this gas. If enough on the left do this, the problem will be solved. Sam I am going to do you a great favor. If you want to know the source of climate change here on earth. On a bright sunny day, go out side and notice this large bright light up in the sky. Do not stare at it. That is the source of nearly all energy on this planet. Grasp that.

  7. FranklinTest says:

    Well I actually think a large portion of problem for AGW is that the person leading the charge is Al Gore. For people who don’t in general trust politicians (this is most of us) or for those who specifically don’t trust Democrats (this is many of us), the initial side they gravitated towards was going to be the opposite of whatever Gore was saying.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    How can the elites win such arguments? The constitution protects gun ownership and the “science” behind AGW is falling apart more each day. It’s not counter propaganda but truth that is finding an audience.

  9. sam says:

    The constitution protects gun ownership

    The 2d has yet to be incorporated against the states by SCOTUS, though some lower courts have said that it is. And even if it is incorporated, this does not mean the end of all gun control laws. See Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller. Here’s a summary of the pertinent holding (from National Review):

    The Second Amendment right is not unlimited. We [SCOTUS] do not cast doubt on concealed-weapons prohibitions, laws barring possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, laws barring firearms in sensitive places like schools and government buildings, and laws imposing conditions on commercial sale of arms. (54-55) Also, the sorts of weapons protected are the sorts of small arms that were lawfully possessed at home at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification, not those most useful in military service today, so “M-16 rifles and the like” may be banned.

  10. Triumph says:

    the “science” behind AGW is falling apart more each day.

    While I am generally with Inhofe on this, I must admit that global warming is accelerating at a swift pace. I noticed that just five months ago, the mean temperature in Anchorage was -2 and today it is 46!

    I hate to admit it, but algore might be on to something here!

  11. odograph says:

    I gotta ask you, what kind of person thinks Al Gore is “in charge” of global warming?

    And speaking of James’ other thread, about the internet making us smarter, hit google and see what the top and most respected pages tell you about AGW. Don’t seek out and silo with like-minded but inferior positions.

    For fun, watch the back-peddling George Will has to do when he floats the conservative-silo’d position in a mainstream venue.

  12. odograph says:

    (Side comment to James – what is this site for? Is it to keep stuff like AGW denial alive in isolation? To pop a CRA meme a year from now?)

  13. Al Gore isn’t in charge of global warming, he’s in charge of making money selling global warming.

    odograph, if you’re going to use the appeal to authority error, at least try to pick a better authority than Google, since Google numbers are about quantity, not quality.

    Oh, and who gives a damn what George Will thinks?

    Finally, there is unquestionably ALW (anthropomorphic localized warming) going on in various locales throughout the globe, but I still doubt whether there is AGW truly happening. And yes, there is science to support that hypothesis, not just dogma.

  14. odograph says:

    OK, I’ll go with NASA and the National Science Foundation.

    For fun I’ll throw in National Geographic and The Weather Channel.

    Who you got? Cato? The Corner?

  15. PD Shaw says:

    Well I actually think a large portion of problem for AGW is that the person leading the charge is Al Gore.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but isn’t it interesting that the highest concern for global warming corresponds with Al Gore’s Presidential race in 2000 and Gore’s Second Act as Nobel-Prize winning documentarist in 2006-07?

  16. Our Paul says:

    Strange business this continual labeling of the thinking class as “elitist” by Michael Barone, echoed by Glen Reynolds, and in part by our host, to wit:

    One could argue that these are cases where counter-elites are exceedingly well organized and have fought back with counter-propaganda. Regardless, they’re obviously cases where the elites have failed to dominate the debate.

    It certainly does not take a graduate degree to appreciate that coupling gun control and climate change is a flight into absurdity. Gun ownership is a cultural phenomena limited to the United States, and selected other countries where tribalism or lack of adequate police power occurs. Global Warming on the other hand has immediate and long term effects on the ecology of our planet.

    Now then, only the real, far out fringe thinkers fall into the climate change is not occurring crowd. Thus we are left with one of three possibilities: (1) Global warming is a “natural trend” and is unrelated to human activity. (2) Global warming is completely caused by human activity (3) There is a mixture of “natural trends” and human activity. It does not take a University trained logician to point out that the difference between possibility (2) and (3) is one of degree (pun intended, and a rather neat one at that).

    Those idiots that argue that humans have no influence on climate just simply display their ignorance. Perhaps the clearest and most dramatic manifestation of human activity influencing climate was found when commercial jet flights were grounded in the 3 days immediately after 9/11. As for the impact of Global Warming, the dreadful man that FranklinTest (May 11, 2009 | 12:11 pm) decried can be found at Ted Talks with an update and some cool graphics.

    Sigh, as the Center Right keeps touting the pre-eminence of the United States in world affairs they seem to have missed an obvious point. Great nations have a tendency to self destruct when the uneducated rabble reach a critical point

  17. FranklinTest says:

    Perhaps a poor choice of words. I did not intend to either promote or decry Al Gore in my post. And I should have said he was leading the charge in the *awareness* of AGW, not AGW itself.

    The intent of my post was basically that most people have chosen sides not based on any actual science, but based on who they believe.

    I’m not offering an opinion because I haven’t studied both sides of the issue. Plus every time I bring up the study that showed 97% of actual climate scientists believe in AGW, someone jumps all over me.

  18. odograph says:

    Franklin, why did you pick out Al Gore when you could have picked out NASA?

    Or the NOAA

  19. floyd says:

    “”I don’t worry about it, but I do think I have a responsibility.””

    AHHH!!! SO IT’S YOU!!!!
    Have you been exhaling CO2 Again and maybe a little flatulent???? HUH???[lol]

  20. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t know, did NASA or NOAA win a Nobel Prize for their role in public awareness of global warmining?

    Franklin, I certainly didn’t take the Al Gore comment as political. I voted for Gore in 2000 and still believe he would have been a superior candidate in 2008, but I recognize his weaknesses and his public perception as much as anybody.

  21. PD Shaw says:

    According to one of the linked polls above, the view that the seriousness of global warming has generally been exaggerated has increased among Democrats from 15% to 22% over the last 3 years (increasing to 44% for independents and 66% for Republicans). I take this is either because of the increasing influence of Luddites like GWBush and Rush over the nation, or its because of the way many advocates argue the science.

  22. Pug says:

    Michael Barone, of course, is not an “elite” He’s just a regular guy in the mold of Joe the Plumber.

    I wonder if he knows how to pump gas?

  23. FranklinTest says:

    I think PD Shaw answered your question adequately. Besides, every time there’s a cold day, some smart ass mentions Al Gore.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    It makes perfect sense why most people aren’t that concerned about global warming…it hasn’t hurt them in a way that they can readily perceive…until it does, these numbers obviously won’t go up all that much…as for guns, it’s interesting that most people either want to make stricter laws or keep the laws we have now…it is the distinct minority that wants to make it easier to get guns…

  25. odograph says:

    It’s like, which worries you more, your infected tooth, or the extra 50 pounds you carry?

    Both can kill you, but it’s pretty easy that the tooth would be the priority. That is the thing, per the polls that you “worry about.”

    OK fine, you’ve been to the dentist … does that mean you ignore your cardiologist?

    Actually, I think the reasons we tend toward overweight are very much the same reasons we ignore other long term and less immediate threats, like AGW.

    (My BMI is 20.3)

  26. Wayne says:

    That is some pretty weak science. It is that type of science is what causes your side to lose credibility.

    Take any three day period and it will most likely be higher or lower than the average of the last 60 years. If it by some small chance they are not then, one can use 50, 30 or however many years fit their agenda. There are many ways this study was bogus. To try to use it as proof that humans have significant impact on Global temperatures is lame at best.

    It is another example of bogus science used by the manmade global warming cult.

  27. freethinker says:

    I think the Science here is not the issue , either
    way we need to look to new forms of alternative energy.There is alot going on besides just the obvious programs. I just about new research in Cold Fusion on 60 Minutes. It showed how this research is going on now all over the world and they featured a company called Energetics Technologies. I posted the link to the website above.

  28. Our Paul says:

    You pose a singular problem Wayne (May 11, 2009 | 05:46 pm) as it is unclear whether you are a true climate change denier, or just simply one of those folk who scoff at the idea that the observed warming of the planet is phenomena that man contributes to. I will assume the latter, for if you deny that global warming is taking place there is not a man or women in this world that will be able to hold an intelligent conversation with you…

    Now then, an inquiring mind would not blather forth with this: It is another example of bogus science used by the manmade global warming cult. The trick in discourse is to define what the other person is talking about. As I was obviously referring to jet contrails, one place to start might be Wikipedia, where you will stumble upon this:

    Vapour trails or contrails, by affecting the Earth’s radiation balance, act as a radiative forcing. Studies have found that vapour trails or contrails trap outgoing longwave radiation emitted by the Earth and atmosphere (positive radiative forcing) at a greater rate than they reflect incoming solar radiation (negative radiative forcing). Therefore, the overall net effect of contrails is positive, i.e. a warming.[3] However, the effect varies daily and annually, and overall the magnitude of the forcing is not well known: globally (for 1992 air traffic conditions), values range from 3.5 mW/m² to 17 mW/m². Other studies have determined that night flights are mostly responsible for the warming effect: while accounting for only 25% of daily air traffic, they contribute 60 to 80% of contrail radiative forcing. Similarly, winter flights account for only 22% of annual air traffic, but contribute half of the annual mean radiative forcing.[4]

    There is obviously more in the article, including a discussion of the study that I brought to the attention of OTB readers. You may wish to explore the references in the Wiki article. An alternative would be a Google search, but that is a big bite to chew on with more than 120,000 entries for “contrails and global warming”.

    The reason why I brought up David J. Travis’ study on contrails, temperature, and 9/11 is that contrails serve as a visible model of the effect of green house gas in the atmosphere. You may wish to explore how your tax dollars are at work in confronting this problem. The EPA has an elegant site that does not mention Al Gore, and provides a ton of information.

  29. Trialdog says:

    Ah yes, the “elites.” Elites? Elite at what? Do these great social engineers have anything in common with average citizens? Why do these “elites” think they should or can control my liberties or thoughts? Perhaps it is not nice to point out that the “elites” are cloistered know nothings.
    Anyway, the questions were obviously authored by an “elite.” One can tell by how confused the premises are. For example: Protecting the environment and having a robust economy are not mutually exclusive ideals. Only an “elitist” would believe we cannot have both. The reason is more complicated than we have time for here but it has to do with the “elites” fear of capitalism and its inherent freedoms. The “elistist” mind is frighteningly twisted, ill educated, and incredibly naive.
    The “global warming” question is a classic. First, it assumes humans have any significant effect on climate and second, that humans can do something about it by giving huge amounts of money and power to government. The “elites” have spendt too much time trying to convince people that a person’s intellect can be measured by the degree to which they believe in “global warming.” They need to spend more time outside. Or, if it is too cold out, perhaps they could actually stop and think about the alleged facts on which the “global warming” theories are based, apply some analytical skills, and bravely reach an uncomfortable conclusion that may exclude them from their next wine party.
    Oh, the horror!
    On guns, I have a better idea. Take out the words “the sale of firearms” and insert other individual rights protected by the Constitution. Compare results. If opinions on gun sale laws indicate people believe the laws too lax, then it would be time to institute a massive educational campaign in our schools about freedoms, rights, and responsibilities.
    My gosh, why do the “elites” always have to ask questions and study just how much we are willing to give up, allow the government to control, and be manipulated? What kind of sick people want to do that to their fellow citizens, and why? These are dangerous times indeed.

  30. Wayne says:

    Where to start? According to your Wikipedia reference (something I often use for reference but as often is pointed out is not a reliable resource) contrails should warm earth not cool it. Yet the study you sited said temperatures were 2 degree higher with the planes grounded. According to your theories it should have been cooler. No contrails therefore no warming affects. However even though it would help my theory that man does not have “significant” impact on global temperature, I still call this study bogus because I hate sloppy science.

    There has been many post on manmade global warming so I won’t repeat it here. This post is just stating that our side has been winning converts while your side is losing. There is much waste of my taxpayer dollars that I don’t care for especially appointing talking head to state scientific facts without the science to back it up.