Study tracks widening partisan divide on climate

“Of those who identify as Republicans, about 49 percent said in the 2001 Gallup survey that they believe the effects of global warming have already begun — a number that dropped to 29 percent in 2010,” states a summary of Associate Professor Aaron McCright’s study, which appears in the Spring issue of Sociological Quarterly.

“Meanwhile, the percentage of Democrats who believe global warming has already begun increased from about 60 in 2001 to 70 in 2010. All told, the gap between these ‘believers’ in the two parties increased from 11 percent in 2001 to 41 percent in 2010,” adds the summary.

The study explores what the authors call a media and political culture that contributes to the divisions.

“Current flows of political messages and news concerning global warming are likely contributing to the growing divide,” states the study, which is co-authored by an Oklahoma State University professor.

It adds:

“Given the bifurcated flow of conflicting information on global warming from elites on both sides of the political spectrum, ideological, and partisan camps in the general public likely receive very different information on global warming—in ways that reinforce their existing political differences.”

McCright, in a statement, said, “In the last few decades political elites have become polarized on climate change. This has driven the political divide on this topic within the American public, as regular citizens have taken cues from ideological and party leaders they trust.”

The consensus view among scientists is that global warming is occurring and human activities — notably burning fossil fuels — are a major reason why.

The study also finds that increasing education levels have the opposite effect on Democrats and Republicans with respect to climate.

It finds that among Democrats with less than a college degree, 65 percent believe that changes in temperature over the last century are more attributable to human activities than natural changes, while 47 percent of Republicans with less than a college degree have this view.

But among Democrats with a college degree, the percent that believe the changes stem from human activity jumps to 83 percent, while among Republicans with a college degree it drops to 40 percent.