Pollster: Opinion Tipping Point on Climate
August 18, 2016
Bloomberg (october 2015):
Three-quarters of Americans now accept the scientific consensus on climate change, the highest level in four years of surveys conducted by the University of Texas at Austin. The biggest shocker is what’s happening inside the GOP. In a remarkable turnabout, 59 percent of Republicans now say climate change is happening, up from 47 percent just six months ago.
A new public opinion survey finds that “Americans across political lines, except conservative Republicans, would support a presidential candidate who strongly supports taking action to reduce global warming.”
The survey of 1,004 registered voters by the Climate Change Communication programs at Yale and George Mason University yielded a number of important findings consistent with earlier polling this year by Gallup.
The new survey found a growing number of registered voters understand global warming is happening: “Three in four (73%, up 7 points since Spring 2014) now think it is happening. Large majorities of Democrats — liberal (95%) and moderate/conservative (80%) — think it is happening, as do three in four Independents (74%, up 15 points since Spring 2014) and the majority of liberal/moderate Republicans (71%, up 10 points).”
Unfortunately for the GOP, while conservative Republicans generally indicate they’re more likely to vote for this kind of climate-science-denying candidate (+10 percentage points), “Democrats, Independents and liberal/moderate Republicans are much less likely to vote” for such a candidate by -63, -31, and -24 percentage points respectively.
So the right-wing denial machine has put the GOP in a box. Candidates running for the Republican nomination may feel there is a benefit to embracing climate denial if they want to “win the conservative vote” — but such candidates will suffer with every other voter group, particularly if they are running against someone who embraces climate action.
Clearly, The Republican War on Science’s politicization thesis is being strongly validated—a thesis that attributes the problem to the growth of a modern conservative movement, its need to appease its core interest groups and constituencies (corporate America, conservative Christians), its need to have its own alternative expertise and journalism (think tanks, Fox, Limbaugh), and so on … as the “New Right” emerged in the U.S. in the wake of the cultural battles of the 1960s and 1970s, it mobilized strong forces of authoritarianism–e.g., psychological rigidity and closed-mindedness.
Indeed, authoritarians favor Donald Trump, whose supporters have considerable overlap with climate science denial. Robert Brulle’s research into the ‘dark money’ funding climate denial also helps explain the problem. The Republican Party has become increasingly dependent upon corporate funding and support, which is heavily skewed in the direction of climate denial. The near-total abandonment of party leadership on the climate issue has sent a signal to Republican voters – climate change isn’t a concern, and anyone saying otherwise is part of the hoax.
The growth of this anti-science strain of the Republican Party thus seems to stem from multiple sources: increased party reliance on the religious right and corporate interests, and the growth of a right-wing media echo chamber that feeds anti-scienceconspiratorial thinking.
However, there is good news. For one, climate denial is largely limited to a small and dwindling group of old, white, male conservatives; hence, it’s not a tenable long-term position for the Republican Party. Like opposition to gay marriage, science denial is a position that will increasingly alienate young voters in particular, who will bear the brunt of the consequences of climate inaction.
Since spring 2015, the number of Americans who think global warming is happening has increased by seven percent. 70% now say it’s happening. This figure nearly matches the highest level we’ve measured (71%) since we began conducting our surveys in November 2008. Worry about global warming is also on the rise, with a larger majority (now at 58%) saying they are “somewhat” or “very” worried about the issue.
The increase is driven by a five percent uptick since last spring in people who now say they are “very worried” about global warming. Americans increasingly view global warming as a threat. Since last spring, more Americans think it will harm people in developing countries (63%, +10 points), people in the U.S. (59%, +10 points), future generations (70%, +7 points), and themselves personally (41%, +5 points). A record high 38% of Americans think people in the U.S. are being harmed “right now” (+6 points).