Just 22 Percent of Republicans Say Humans Play a Big Role in Climate Change

Four in five Republicans think that human activity is not playing a major role in climate change, a poll by the Pew Research Center has found. In a survey of almost 11,000 people, it found 22 percent of Republicans think humans are "contributing a great deal" to the problem, despite scientists overwhelmingly agreeing current climate change is anthropogenic. Among Democrats, 72 percent say human activity is behind current climate trends.

Climate change refers to global changes to climatic conditions on Earth over time. Over the course of the planet's history, there have been periods of exceptional warmth, where temperatures were far warmer than they are today, and periods of extreme cold, when Earth enters an ice age.

In the last century, global temperatures have increased far faster than would be expected. This has been linked to the onset of the industrial revolution, when humans started pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. Gasses like carbon dioxide trap heat into the atmosphere and prevent it from escaping into space. This has a warming effect on the whole planet, resulting in climate change.

Traditionally Republican voters have been more likely to say climate change is not caused by, or not caused to a great extent, by human activity. However, beliefs are starting to change. In 2010, research from Pew showed 38 percent of Republicans agreed Earth is warming and 16 percent said humans had caused it. In comparison, 79 percent of Democrats said global temperatures were increasing and 53 percent believed it was anthropogenic.

Alec Tyson, Associate Director of Research on Pew's Science and Society research team, told Newsweek that 43 percent of Republicans think "some" climate change can be attributed to human activity. "Part of the partisan divide is over the degree of human influence on climate change rather than whether it's a factor at all," he said.

"The public has grown much more concerned about the threat posed by climate change over the last decade. This shift is being driven by changing attitudes among Democrats—there's hardly been any change in views among Republicans."

The survey showed discrepancies between Democrats and Republicans about whether climate change was having an impact on them. Findings showed 37 percent of Republicans believed it is impacting their local community, compared with 83 percent of Democrats. A third of Republicans said the government was not doing enough to reduce the impacts of climate change, while almost nine in 10 Democrats said the same.

fossil fuel stock
Stock image representing fossil fuels. Pew research shows most Republicans do not believe human activity contributes a great deal to climate change. iStock

However, there are areas where members of both parties largely agreed. Ninety two percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Democrats said they are in favor of tree planting initiatives to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. There was also agreement for support for businesses involved in carbon capture technology.

Most Democrats and the majority of Republicans (91 percent and 65 percent) also said the nation should prioritize developing alternative energy sources. In total, 90 percent said they would be in favor of the development of solar panel farms. Eighty three percent said they would like to see more wind turbine farms. In comparison, 65 percent opposed the expansion of coal mining, 60 percent were opposed to fracking and 58 percent were against offshore oil and gas drilling.

The survey also showed bigger divides among Republicans and those who lean towards Republican, but who describe their views as liberal or moderate. The report said younger voters and women in the party tend to be more critical of the government than older male Republicans. Millennials and younger Republicans were more likely than Boomers and older voters to say the government is doing too little in all areas of the survey.

Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, told Newsweek the poll findings shows climate change will play a role in the forthcoming election.

"Despite the intransigence that remains among self-identifying Republicans who appear, for the most part, unusually resistant to evidence and logic, what this poll shows is that there is now a very substantial majority of Americans who prioritize action on climate," he said. "That's good news going into a critical election this fall that will determine the future course of science and climate policy here in the U.S.

"Make no mistake. This is a make-or-break election on climate, and climate action is on the ballot this Fall. If voters turn out and vote on climate, at the top of the ticket and all the way down, there is very real opportunity to make progress in tackling this existential threat."

Tyson said that one of the major takeaways from research over recent years is the rising priority of climate policy for Democrats—it is now among the "top tier" issues for these voters. However, he said how much it will influence the forthcoming presidential election is unclear.

"It remains a low priority for Republicans, and the partisan gap over the urgency of climate action for the U.S. has only widened," he said. "As an incumbent, President Donald Trump and his record will be front and center in his reelection campaign.

"2020 is unprecedented to the extent the campaign is taking place during a public health crisis. And conversations about the state of the economy along with race and racial equality are currently front-of-mind for many Americans. So, it remains to be seen how much climate change will feature in 2020, even as it's become a major issue for Democrats in recent years."