Welcome to reality –
Partisan gap on climate change is mostly due to older male conservatives.
One of the stranger aspects of the post-factual era is that basic aspects of reality have become partisan issues. Exhibit A of that problem is climate change. In the US and a handful of other countries, conservatives haven’t simply objected to policies to address climate change; they’ve often questioned whether the climate was even changing. In the US, this has been true for everyone from elected officials to the general public.
But recent events, including fires, unusual temperatures, and destructive storms, seem to have pushed public acceptance of climate change to higher levels. Anew poll by the Pew Research Centercomes at an opportune time to see whether the increasingly obvious signs of a changing climate have impacted the partisan divide.
The poll was conducted in October and used a panel of more than 3, 500 participants . This was enough for a margin of error of about 2% for analyzing the entire polled populations. For analysis of specific subpopulations, the margins of error were typically in the area of 4%.
So, how is the US public feeling about reality these days? Overall, about 80% of the public accepts the evidence that human activities contribute to the changing climate, with 50% acknowledging that we contribute a great deal. Eighty percent also feel that natural influences help drive climate change. To an extent, this is an awkward set of questions; natural variations obviouslycanaffect the climate, but the evidence indicates that recent change has been dominated by human influences.
Nevertheless, there was a clear partisan divide. Eighty-four percent of liberal Democrats accepted human activity as a large influence on the climate. That number dropped to 64% for moderate Democrats, 35% for medium Republicans, and 14% among conservative Republicans. Conversely, the percentage of people saying that natural causes were a large influence rose from 15% among liberal Democrats to 59% among conservative Republicans.
There was actually a smaller divide when it came to one of the major solutions for climate change: an expansion of renewable energy. When asked whether we should be favoring alternative energy or fossil fuels, nearly 80% went for the non-fossil alternative, a number that included 62% of Republicans. Even the least supportive conservative Republicans were evenly divided when it comes to which to prioritize. And perhaps critically, support went up among the younger Republicans, with millennials supporting it at about the same level as the population as a whole.
That same pattern repeated itself when respondents were asked whether the government was doing too little to address climate change. While Democrats strongly endorsed this view (90% agreed), Republican support was lower and concentrated among moderate Republicans, women, and younger people.
Everybody loves the environment
The climate divide didn’t dampen American’s enthusiasm about protecting the environment. A full 88% of respondents said they had taken actions to try to limit their environmental impact, with reducing food waste, plastic use, and water use being the most frequently cited efforts.
There was an odd gender / ideology interaction here, though. When it came to the different actions, Democratic men, Democratic women, and Republican women adopted pro-environmental behaviors at similar rates. By contrast, Republican men were consistently less likely to do any of them.
Huge majorities wanted to see an expansion of solar (92%) and wind power (85%). This extended to even conservative Republicans, where 80% and 70% supported solar and wind construction, respectively. While there was a lot of ambiguity about nuclear power, liberals were the least likely to support its expansion, though Pew didn’t determine whether that was due to financial or environmental concerns. Conservative Republicans were the only group where a clear majority supported new nuclear construction.
Fossil fuels exposed the real polarization. Two-thirds or more of conservative Republicans wanted to see more production of fossil fuels by offshore drilling, fracking, or coal mining. By contrast, only about 10% of liberal Democrats did.
Overall, climate change remains a politically divisive subject in the US. But there is some good news in the polling, in that the divide shrinks as you move away from the core conservative constituency of older male Republicans. While it won’t go away if younger Republicans maintain their current views as they age, it will definitely shrink. And even given the polarization, there are still ways to address climate change — by building additional solar and wind power — that enjoy near universal support.
Listing image byImage courtesy of usembassy.gov