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Why do Republicans deny climate change?

[By Rohini Venkatraman, Product Manager & Kristen Berman, Irrational Labs cofounder]


“We need more data to move forward.”
“That just won’t work.”
“It’s a good problem, but not high enough on the priority list”
“Sorry, no budget. Maybe next quarter.”

These are the ringtones of rejection.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, your success typically depends on your ability to sell your ideas. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few that always get immediate and buy-in from management or investors but the more common case is to be met with opposition. It is a huge setback when your pitch is squashed, and rejection is especially frustrating when you have proof that your idea addresses a big unsolved problem.

Even with a data-packed powerpoint deck or perfect elevator pitch, you’re likely to get a few NOs.

Why are some people so quick to deny that a problem exists?

According to a new Duke study, decision makers may be focused on something else during our diligent sales pitch. To understand the psychology of this, PhDs Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay tested how people view climate change.

In their experiment, researchers presented Democrats and Republicans with two policy solutions for human-caused climate change: a free market friendly solution and a government regulation solution. (The Republican party favors free market solutions.)

Republicans who were presented with a free market friendly versus a government regulation solution were 47% more likely to agree with climate change science.

Translation? Republicans may be denying the existence of climate change NOT because they fundamentally disagree with the science, but because they don’t agree with some of the liberal leaning solutions.

When people are presented with solutions that challenge their pre-existing beliefs, they are less likely to agree that the problem exists at all.

The phenomenon is called solution aversion. The way we describe solutions affects whether our audience perceives the problem to exist.

It holds true for other topics like air quality and gun control. If people don’t like our solution or if it challenges their pre-existing beliefs, they will reject the problem altogether.

How do we solve a problem like solution aversion?

  1. Rally around the problem. Before diving into solutions, get everyone in the room to agree on your problem statement.
  2. Know your audience. Are there any personalities, beliefs, or experiences that might be at odds with certain types of solutions? Take this into account when explaining your idea.
  3. Present multiple ways to solve the problem. Now that everyone agrees that a problem exists, outline two very different ways to solve that problem. Share your recommended solution and open up for feedback on the solutions.

By selling the problem you are trying to solve — rather than your solution to it — you have a better chance getting people on board with your ideas. Unless, of course, you see no problem with the way you’re selling your ideas today.



Campbell, T. H., & Kay, A. C. (2014). Solution aversion: On the relation between ideology and motivated disbelief. Journal of personality and social psychology, 107(5), 809. Retrieved from http://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/10161/9256/Campbell%20et%20al._Solution%20Aversion.pdf

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