94% Democrats and 67% Republicans say climate change is real, want govt to intensify actions to tackle it: Survey

However, 43% of Democrats attach extreme personal importance to climate change, compared to 22% of independents and 4% of Republicans


                            94% Democrats and 67% Republicans say climate change is real, want govt to intensify actions to tackle it: Survey
(Getty Images)

Less than a month before the US presidential election in which climate change may be a key issue, new survey results show that climate change may be less politically polarizing than many might expect. The researchers found that 94% of Democrats believe that global warming has been happening as do 67% of Republicans and 78% of independents. 

Majority of Democrats (86%), Republicans (56%) and independents (77%), also believe that they have personally seen the effects of climate change.

According to the team, which includes experts from Stanford University, Resources for the Future (RFF, an American nonprofit organization) and ReconMR (survey research company), most of the three groups think that the US government should act to deal with climate change. Democrats are almost unanimously (97-98%) in favor of action by the US government and governments in other countries, US businesses and average people. Sizable majorities (63-68%) of Republicans expressed these preferences as well. The partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans on these issues ranges from 27 to 50 percentage points and averages 36 percentage points. Further, 96% of Democrats, 53% of Republicans and 71% of independents favor pursuing the goals of the Paris Agreement, which is a pact to combat climate change and to intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. Last year, the Trump administration started the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement by notifying the UN of its intention to leave.

Party breakdown of beliefs about actions to deal with global warming. (Climate Insights 2020: Partisan Divide, Resources for the Future and Stanford University)

Based on their findings, the authors say that while some observers have claimed that climate change is a deeply partisan issue, the data show more nuance — majorities of all three groups of Americans agree on the existence, causes and threat of climate change, as well as on various government policies that could be used to mitigate future warming. And the partisan gap dividing American public opinion on this issue is smaller than it is on many other important issues facing the country, they add.

“Americans are often portrayed as hopelessly politically polarized, with Republicans believing one thing and Democrats believing the opposite. But this is not true on climate change. Our report identifies many topics on which majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree: that global warming has been happening, that it is caused by humans, that it poses a threat, that the government should address it and that some government approaches are appealing while others are not,” co-author Jon Krosnick, a social psychologist at Stanford University and RFF university fellow, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).

According to Krosnick, the study gives policymakers the opportunity to take action on climate change knowing that there is widespread support among Americans for many of the approaches they might pursue. “Following the public’s will on this issue will advantage those politicians, not only by doing what most people want but also increasing their chances of being re-elected and perhaps even increasing Americans’ trust in their government,” he emphasizes.

About 96% of Democrats, 53% of Republicans, and 71% of independents favor pursuing the goals of the Paris Agreement. Last year, the Trump administration started the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement by notifying the UN of its intention to leave. (Getty Images)

Many believe human actions caused global warming

The study is the fourth installment in a series of survey reports by the team and illustrates climate-related beliefs, attitudes and policy preferences across the political spectrum. The survey, which polled 999 American adults from May to August 2020, identifies the issues on which political groups agree and disagree. It found that while there are situations in which opinions differ along party lines, there is also bipartisan support on many issues related to climate change. However, 43% of Democrats attach extreme personal importance to climate change, compared to 22% of Independents and 4% of Republicans. “Thus, when politicians or candidates talk about this issue, Democrats are much more attentive to those comments, whereas Republicans are largely indifferent,” say researchers. 

The results suggest that 94% of Democrats and 56% of Republicans think warming will continue in the future if nothing is done to address it. Again, 94% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans believe that if warming has been happening, human actions have been responsible for causing it. “Majorities of Democrats and many Republicans also agree about the likely effects of global warming — 98% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans believe global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem for the US if nothing is done to address it. Some 97% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans believe that global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem for the world if nothing is done to address it,” the findings state.

However, the partisans diverge on whether specific temperature changes have been or will be bad. Whereas 88% of Democrats believe that the warming that has happened over the past 100 years was bad, only 40% of Republicans believe that. Whereas 84% of Democrats believe that a 5-degree Fahrenheit increase in world temperature over the next 75 years would be bad, only 50% of Republicans agree. “Particularly intriguing is the statistic that 76% of Democrats believe that unchecked global warming will hurt them personally at least a moderate amount but only 26% of Republicans believe the same,” the authors write.

Party breakdown of beliefs about global warming and its effects. (Climate Insights 2020: Partisan Divide, Resources for the Future and Stanford University)

Mitigation policies

In general, Republicans tend to oppose aggressive government regulations and government involvement in the economy and the business sector. Democrats tend to be open to government regulation and economic involvement designed to pursue desired goals.

Party breakdown of support for “common ground” policies on which the majorities of Democrats and Republicans agree. (Climate Insights 2020: Partisan Divide, Resources for the Future and Stanford University)

Respondents were asked to report their opinions about different policies intended to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis shows that many and sometimes huge majorities of Democrats, favor all but two of those policies — those range from 57% to 97%. Many Democrats and Republicans also oppose two policies: tax breaks to encourage more nuclear power plant construction (33% and 44% favor, respectively) and increased taxes on electricity to cause people to use less of it (40% and 12% are in favor, respectively). 

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