Science, Politics and Policy: How Michiganders think about the Risks Facing the Great Lakes

Richard Christopher Hula, Melanie Bowers, Cameron Whitley, William Isaac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The Great Lakes region is an important ecological asset for the United States, yet studies show that several environmental risks threaten its viability. As a result, it is important to respond to these risks with effective policies. When and how policy is implemented often depends on public opinion and perceptions; yet, we understand little about how individuals from the Great Lakes region construct opinions about the threats facing the lakes. We seek to understand how individuals from the state of Michigan form opinions on three risks to the lakes: invasive Asian carp, climate change, and offshore drilling. To do this, we evaluate the utility of two dominant models of environmental opinion formation: trust and deference to scientific authority, and partisan bias and motivated reasoning. We find that when issues have been politicized, opinion is greatly influenced by political factors like partisanship but that trust and deference as well as underlying environmental attitudes play a more important role for issues that have not been politicized. We discuss the implications of these findings in terms of policy and communication in Michigan, arguing that if we want Michiganders to support policy consistent with science, they must view risk in ways that are consistent with scientific consensus. For that to happen, advocates and policy makers must focus on reducing the political rhetoric around these threats, developing communication that taps into underlying trust and deference to science, and using underlying attitudes about the role of government in environmental protection to promote environmental policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)833-844
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Anthropology
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Asian carp
  • Climate change
  • Environmental policy
  • Great Lakes
  • Michigan
  • Offshore drilling
  • Public opinion


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