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Politics & Global Warming, Fall 2015


Key Findings

Consistent with prior surveys, we find that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be convinced that human-caused global warming is happening, and to think that action is needed.

But we also find, similar to the findings in our Spring 2014 politics report Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G., & Rosenthal, S. (2014). Politics & Global Warming, Spring 2014. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication., that there is much more going on beneath the surface. One of the most interesting—and consistent—findings is a clear difference between liberal/moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans. In many respects, liberal/moderate Republicans are similar to moderate/ conservative Democrats on the issue of global warming, potentially forming a moderate, middle-ground public on the issue. Republicans are not a monolithic block of global warming policy opponents. Rather, Liberal/moderate Republicans are often part of the mainstream of public opinion on climate change, while conservative Republicans’ views are often distinctly different than the rest of the American public.

For example:

  • Registered voters are more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports action to reduce global warming (36% are more likely to vote for such a candidate, 16% are less likely). Only conservative Republicans are less likely to vote for such a candidate.
  • Likewise, registered voters are less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming (43% are less likely, 13% are more likely). Only conservative Republicans are more likely (slightly) to vote for a candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming.
  • Two in three registered voters (68%) think global warming is happening. Large majorities of Democrats (86%) – liberal (92%) and moderate/conservative (79%) – think it is happening, as do two in three Independents (68%, up 9 percentage points since Spring 2014) and liberal/moderate Republicans (65%). By contrast, only about four in ten conservative Republicans think global warming is happening (43%, up 15 points).
  • Just over half of registered voters (52%) think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities, with an additional 6% saying human activities and natural changes both play a role (volunteered). A large majority of Democrats (72%, and 82% of liberal Democrats), four in ten liberal and moderate Republicans (43%), and only 22% of conservative Republicans think global warming is mostly human-caused.
  • In a recent study investigating the degree of scientific consensus on climate change, researchers determined that 97% of climate scientists are convinced human-caused global warming is happening. However, American registered voters, on average (median), estimate that only six in ten climate scientists are convinced (59%). Importantly, Americans’ estimates have improved since Spring 2014, when they estimated that just half of scientists are convinced. Democrats’ estimates improved the most (from median estimates of 69% of scientists in Spring 2014 to 75% in Fall 2015), followed by conservative Republicans (from 46% to 50%, respectively).
  • Over half (56%) of Americans say they are “very” or “somewhat” worried about global warming. Liberal Democrats are the most worried (83%), followed by moderate/conservative Democrats (66%), while about half of Independents (53%) and liberal/moderate Republicans (50%) are worried. Relatively few conservative Republicans (28%) are worried, although there has been an 11-point increase in the number who are worried since our last politics report in Spring 2014.
  • The 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (often referred to as COP21) recently concluded in Paris, leading to an international agreement to reduce global warming pollution. Prior to the start of the conference, six in ten Americans (62%) said that it was moderately or more important that the world reach an agreement in Paris to limit global warming. This opinion was most widely held by liberal Democrats–nearly 9 in 10 (87%) said it was important to reach a climate agreement in Paris. At least six in ten moderate/conservative Democrats (68%), Independents (62%), and liberal/moderate Republicans (65%) also thought it was important to reach an agreement. By contrast, only about one in three conservative Republicans (36%) thought reaching an agreement was important.
  • Most registered voters (84%) support funding more research into renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power (92% of Democrats, 85% of Independents, and 78% of Republicans).
  • Eight in ten registered voters (80%) support providing tax rebates to people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (87% of Democrats, 84% of Independents, and 73% of Republicans).
  • Three in four registered voters (74%) support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (86% of Democrats, 74% of Independents, and 62% of Republicans).
  • Two in three registered voters (66%) support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax and using the money to reduce other taxes such as income taxes by an equal amount (79% of Democrats, 69% of Independents, and 53% of Republicans).
  • Two in three registered voters (65%) support setting strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, even with the explicit caveat that the cost of electricity to consumers and companies would likely increase. Most likely to support the limits are Democrats (84%, 92% of liberal Democrats) as well as Independents (65%, up 17 points since Spring 2014) and liberal/moderate Republicans (66%). However, only 37% of conservative Republicans support setting strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions (up 6 points since Spring 2014).
  • Across political lines, majorities of registered voters think developing countries (such as China, India, and Brazil), corporations and industry, citizens themselves, and other industrialized countries (such as England, Germany, and Japan) should do more to address global warming.
  • Three in ten registered voters (30%) would be willing to join–or are currently participating in–a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming. The most likely to do so are liberal Democrats (56%); the least likely are conservative Republicans (11%).
  • More than half of registered voters think that if the United States takes steps to reduce global warming, it will provide a better life for our children and grandchildren (64%), improve people’s health (59%), and save many plant and animal species from extinction (55%). Most Democrats, particularly liberal Democrats, expect these and other benefits, as do at least half of Independents and liberal/moderate Republicans. However, fewer than half of conservative Republicans expect any of these benefits if the U.S. takes steps to reduce global warming.
  • Over half of registered voters think that if the United States takes steps to reduce global warming, it will cause energy prices to rise (57%). Relatively few Americans think it would cost jobs and harm our economy (28%) or interfere with the free market (27%). Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, are the most likely to expect these consequences.