Consistent with prior surveys, a new Yale Project on Climate Communication survey finds that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be convinced that pollution from coal and oil is causing climate change and to think that action is needed. But beneath the surface, they also found a stark difference between moderate Republicans and conservative Republications when it comes to climate views.
In other words, Republicans are not a “monolithic block of global warming policy opponents” or science deniers or clean energy naysayers.
It turns out that liberal/moderate Republicans are quite similar in their understandings and beliefs to moderate/conservative Democrats. As the Yale researchers put it, this potentially forms a “moderate, middle ground public” that could tackle important national questions of climate pollution, clean energy, and energy efficiency.
The researchers identify liberal/moderate Republicans—about a third of the Republican party—as part of the mainstream of American public opinion on climate change while the most conservative Republicans are distinct outliers.
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The bad news is that even Democrats are persistently lukewarm on many climate questions (for example, while over 80 percent say they’re worried about global warming, it’s only 27 percent “very” and 54 percent “somewhat” worried—and the numbers are about the same for the most liberal Dems.) The good news is that the far right only represents a fairly thin slice of the electorate, leaving room to imagine progress among America’s mainstream.
And perhaps most promising of all: Americans of all political stripes—except those hardcore conservatives—are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports strong action to curb climate change and oppose ones who don’t.
Here are some of the details, starting with the basics.
- Two in three registered voters (66 percent) understand that global warming is happening. Large majorities of Democrats (88 percent)—liberal (93 percent) and moderate/conservative Dems (84 percent)—know it is happening, as do over half of Independents (59 percent) and liberal and moderate Republicans (61 percent). By contrast, only 28 percent of conservative Republicans acknowledge global warming is happening.
- Just over half of registered voters (51 percent) are aware that global warming is caused mostly by human activities. A large majority of Democrats (69 percent, and 75 percent of liberal Democrats) and nearly half (47 percent) of liberal and moderate Republicans, but only 22 percent of conservative Republicans know global warming is mostly human-caused.
- Over half (56 percent) of registered voters say they are worried about global warming. Liberal Democrats are the most worried (84 percent), followed by moderate/conservative Democrats (77 percent). Half of liberal/moderate Republicans (51 percent) are worried about global warming and are more than twice as likely to be worried than conservative Republicans (19 percent).
With election season heating up, Yale’s findings about voter preferences for candidates are encouraging. These attitudes yet again single out the far right as out of sync with the American mainstream:
- Americans are more than two times more likely to vote for a congressional or presidential candidate who strongly supports action to reduce global warming. Democrats, liberal and moderate Republicans, and Independents are more likely to vote for such a candidate. Only conservative Republicans are less likely to vote for such a candidate.
- Likewise, Americans are three times more likely to vote against a political candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming. Only conservative Republicans are, on balance, slightly more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming.
- About half of Democrats say a US House candidate’s views on global warming and developing clean energy sources will be very important to their vote. Independents and Republicans place less importance on these issues.
Surprisingly, when it comes to policies to cut climate pollution, the far-right of the GOP is yet again on its own. It should be noted, however, that these findings are from a poll fielded in April 2014, before the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out the Clean Power Plan in June, and before opponents stirred up renewed partisan fervor around those climate pollution standards.
- Two in three Americans (66 percent) support the Congress and president passing laws to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy as a way to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels. Most likely to voice support are Democrats (81 percent), including 89 percent of liberal Democrats. Majorities of liberal and moderate Republicans (63 percent) and Independents (59 percent) do as well. By contrast, conservative Republicans are the least likely to support passing energy efficiency and renewable energy laws as a way to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels (42 percent).
- Two in three Americans (64 percent) 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 (82 percent, 89 percent of liberal Democrats) as well as liberal and moderate Republicans (65 percent). About half of Independents (48 percent) support such limits, but only 31 percent of conservative Republicans support setting strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions.
- A majority of Americans (62 percent) say the US should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do. Democrats in particular are likely to agree (75 percent, 84 percent of liberal Democrats). Majorities of liberal and moderate Republicans (57 percent) and Independents (53 percent) support this as well. Fewer than half of conservative Republicans (43 percent), although still a plurality, believe the United States should reduce its emissions regardless of what other countries do.
- Americans across political lines, except conservative Republicans, think government should do more to address global warming (including their own member of Congress, their governor, local government officials, and President Obama).
- Large majorities of Democrats, Independents, and liberal/moderate Republicans think corporations and industry and citizens themselves should do more to address global warming. Conservative Republicans are much less likely to say corporations or citizens should do more.
There’s a mainstream understanding that climate solutions can bring benefits for community, health, and jobs and the economy, as well as an awareness of potential costs, but fewer than a quarter of voters think climate action would cost jobs or harm the economy. The most conservative Republicans are the least likely to anticipate opportunities and the most likely to expect negative effects.
- More than half of Americans think that if the United States takes steps to reduce global warming there will be benefits and opportunities, including a better life for our children and grandchildren (60 percent), freedom from dependence on foreign oil (55 percent), improving people’s health (54 percent), saving many plant and animal species from extinction (52 percent), and creating green jobs and a stronger economy (50 percent). Most Democrats, particularly liberal Democrats, expect these and other benefits, whereas fewer than a third of conservative Republicans expect any of these benefits if the US takes steps to reduce global warming. Nearly half of Independents and liberal/moderate Republicans have these views.
- About half of Americans think that if the United States takes steps to reduce global warming there will be costs or harm, including rising energy prices (53 percent) or more government regulation (52 percent). But, only 22 percent of Americans think it would cost jobs and harm our economy. Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, and Independents are the most likely to expect these to happen.
NOTE: For reference, around a third of voters have typically identified as Democrats and a third as Republicans. Around 30 percent historically consider themselves Independents. But those proportions are subject to shift. In 2013, Gallup found that 31 percent identified as Democrats and 25 as Republicans with record numbers of Americans identified as Independents—42 percent. In the Yale study, total Democrats, including “leaners” who might otherwise call themselves Independents equaled 49 percent. Total Republicans, including leaners, was 37 percent. Independents excluding all leaners, one way or the other, was 9 percent.