Story at a glance

  • A study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis polled primary voters on climate change.
  • The majority in both parties see it as real, but Democrats are uniformly concerned.
  • In contrast, Republican respondents showed a variety of different opinions on climate change.

A new study published by Washington University in St. Louis reveals that only 11.1 percent of Republicans identify climate change as a crisis, as opposed to 57.2 percent of Democrats. 

The study is a part of the University’s American Social Survey anthology (TASS), a report published each March, July and November studying socioeconomic and political questions posed by Washington University in St. Louis faculty. This November, the study addressed attitudes on climate change and solutions among primary voters.

The researchers surveyed 743 respondents and asked if they believed there was irrefutable evidence that the Earth is getting hotter, and how to describe climate change. While the survey did see consistent discrepancies between Democrat and Republican responses, they were not as sharp as what researchers expected. 

Professor Steven S. Smith, one of the authors of the report, said that the researcher team “anticipated that there might be some more diversity of views among Democrats than there appears to be,” with 57.2 percent of primary Democratic voters uniformly agreeing that climate change is a crisis, and 82.7 percent believe it is caused by human activity. 

Smith explains that “Democrats are pretty consistent in their views that there is a serious problem with global warming, and that virtually any policy to address it is a good thing.”

In contrast, he pointed out that Republican respondents “are about evenly divided as to whether or not human activity is the cause of global warming.”

In response to the question, “Is there solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer?” both parties showed a majority answering yes. Some 89.6 percent of Democratic voters said yes, and 57.5 percent of Republican voters agreed. 

Only 11.1 percent of Republican primary voters, however, saw climate change as a crisis, with the party appearing split between classifying it as a “major problem,” a “minor problem,” and “not a problem.” Similar fractures exist when asking Republican primary voters about the cause of climate change. 

Smith says that looking even deeper and surveying by political candidate affiliation, the researchers found that Trump supporters are “split down the middle” as to whether or not there is a problem.

“Among Trump supporters, the majority think climate change is due to natural patterns rather than human activity,” Smith continued. “So for Republican politicians, it looks like the typical electorate is going to have a confusing set of views and some aren’t believers of climate change and among those who are there’s a division about the role of human activity.”

Smith believes that this could be a reason as to why climate change is not a larger issue in the Republican party, as the wrong word on climate change “has potential to create deep divisions in the Republican party.”

In terms of policy solutions, neither party favors a tax-based policy, despite economists finding this to be the most efficient way to address climate change. Respondents from both parties tended to favor making carbon and carbon-emitting products more expensive, also known as a carbon tax. 

Overall, the bigger picture is that both parties have more “widespread concern” about climate change than ever before.

Published on Dec 23, 2019