It will come as no surprise that American Republicans and Democrats disagree on the climate change issue at the moment, and according to a first of its kind study, the gap between Democrats and Republicans who believe global warming is happening increased a total of 30 percent between the years 2001 and 2010.
Sociologist at Michigan State University, Aaron M. McCright noted that this was a “depressing” trend that’s doing its level best to keep focus on whether the issue is real, rather than focusing on fixing the problem.
“Instead of a public debate about different policies to deal with global warming, a significant percentage of the American public is still debating the science,” said McCright, MSU associate professor and primary investigator on the study. “As a result, we’re failing to significantly address one of the most serious problems of our time.”
McCright adds that these results are consistent with the prevailing theory that explains how political polarization occurs in the general public.
“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.”
This political polarization has only increased in the past decade as Americans were granted news outlets which spun the news according to their own political beliefs. McCright noted that citizens are having their views on climate change – very different and opposing views – backed up by the news channel that they choose to watch.
“Unfortunately, this is not a recipe for promoting a civil, science-based discussion on this very serious environmental problem,” McCright said. “Like with the national discussion on health care, we don’t even agree on what the basic facts are.”
This political polarization on climate change is not likely to go away in the near future, he added.
“Many Republican Party leaders have moved further to the right since the 2008 presidential election. We’ve also seen attacks on climate science by Tea Party activists. It seems like climate change denial has become something of a litmus test for Republican candidates,” McCright said.
“This continued elite polarization on climate change means that the general public will likely remain politically divided on climate change for a while.”
The MSU-led study showed that people on the right of the political spectrum increasingly deny the existence of global warming, while those on the left of the political spectrum are more likely to believe in global warming than they were ten years ago.
The study also found that;
- 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. 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.
- A similar trend held for people who identify as either conservative or liberal. When it came to believing that global warming has already begun, the gap between conservatives and liberals increased from about 18 percent in 2001 to 44 percent in 2010.
- Among liberals and Democrats, having a college degree increases the likelihood of reporting beliefs consistent with the scientific consensus. Yet, among conservatives and Republicans, having a college degree often decreases the likelihood of reporting such beliefs