The Coming GOP Split on Climate Mirrors Health Care Debate
October 8, 2013
Over the last two months, we have been releasing initial findings from the first phase of research for Democracy Corps’ new Republican Party Project. This report details findings from six focus groups among Republican partisans—divided into Evangelicals, Tea Party adherents, and moderates. All participants indicated that they voted only or mostly for Republican candidates and were screened on a battery of ideological and political indi- cators. The groups were conducted in Raleigh, North Carolina (moderate and Tea Party), Roanoke, Virginia (Tea Party and Evangelical), and Colorado Springs, Colorado (moderate and Evangelical.)
Climate change is poised to replace health care reform among Republicans, with the very same dynamics already in evidence. But that also could further isolate and divide Republicans too.
Moderates are more apt to accept the science—and respond more positively to science in general. When we asked them about “scientists,” they responded, “respected” and “smart.” Although some are doubtful about climate change, they do not reject science offhand, but rather say they simply do not know enough to know who to believe.
We’ve gone through drought cycles in the ‘80s. And we’re in a little bit of a drought cycle now, but it balances out left and right. And it’s not because we’re driving more Prius’s, you know. It’s just the way that mother earth runs itself. (Moderate man, Col- orado)
I’m not smart enough to say [climate scientist are] full of shit… But I am smart enough to know I need to get more information before I say anyone’s full of shit. I do know that. (Moderate man, Colorado)
There’s been climate change all through history. But I just don’t know enough to know what we’re doing. I can’t say for sure we’re not a problem. (Moderate man, Colorado)
And while moderates reject high taxes and over-regulation, many do accept that climate is one area where government ought to do more.
I’m glad we’re starting to do [more on] energy standards, I wish it was higher…I’m glad that we’re seeing more efficient cars. I’m glad they passed that to where in 2015, we have to have cars that run more efficiently. (Moderate man, Colorado)
Watching landfill and watching vehicle emissions, watching what we’re pumping into our rivers, that’s very, very smart, period. Regardless of climate change. (Moderate man, Colorado)
I mean, that’s just part of good stewardship of the earth that we’ve been given. And I think that you find a lot of Republicans will feel that way too because a lot of Republicans hunt. They’re very sensitive to what the environment does to the hunting, you know, the changes that they see and anything like that. (Moderate man, Colorado)
Moderates are not even in the same conversation as Evangelicals who deeply doubt scientists writ large and Tea Party Republicans who are consumed by the big government and regula- tions that inevitably result from climate science.
Evangelicals and Tea Party Republicans share and are consumed by skepticism about climate science—to the point where they mistrust scientists before they begin to speak
Well, the scientific community in general is minimizing or marginalizing people that are bringing up doubts… You can look in biology, you can look in geology, you can look in chemistry, and you can see that the theory doesn’t hold up. And yet the scientific world won’t acknowledge that. And if you do say it, and you’re a PhD candidate, you can be denied your PhD. You can be denied your Master’s degree. (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)
I think that we’re being fed a lot of misinformation. (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)
Just like the whole evolution-creation thing…I think we waste a lot of time arguing with the science. I think we would all agree that it’s the policy that we don’t agree with… So that seems to be where we’re – we’re losing the fight because we’re fighting the science. And you can’t fight the science. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)
I wonder if they don’t put that out there to distract you. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
Back in the 70s, there were articles out there that another ice age was coming, and that’s just 30 years ago. So now all the articles say, “Hey, it’s getting warmer.” Well they’ve already proven the past 12 years it hasn’t gotten warmer. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)
You could have 12 scientists on this side talking all about global warming, and you can get 12 scientists that will have the complete opposite. So you’re listening and you just don’t know. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)
If you look, there was an ice age. So it used to be really, really, really cold, and inevitably it’s got to warm up eventually. It can’t stay that cold all over forever. And eventually – I think that nature is in cycles. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)
Tea Party Republicans, in particular, are concerned that climate science is another way to force regulations on individuals and businesses.
I think I saw somewhere we have like 100-plus regulations added every day. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)
The politicians and those people – celebrities. Most of them may or may not believe it, but it’s an opportunity for them to gain power, make money, push their agenda. They want to regulate everything…they want to control it, so this is a great excuse for them to gain that control. And if the world were covered in ice right now, they’d find anoth- er reason to gain control. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)
And they fear the subsequent costs—both to consumers and taxpayers.
The government will spend you know hundreds of thousands of dollars to check out some bird you know, that’s fading away or something. Don’t worry about that bird. Worry about the people you know. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
I mean I think we have to…you know and try to make sure that we’re recycling and taking care of our resources…but not at the cost of the jobs and our economy. I mean if we regulate down …to zero emissions…but then a car costs…200,000 dollars, well then we can’t afford it all right. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
And all those regulations are putting companies out of business and like you’re say- ing, making products too expensive. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
And we probably need to remind you that Evangelicals and Tea Party Republicans dominate the party. This looks like the future battle ahead, driven by dynamics of the Republican Party.