WASHINGTON—Democrats are not only more prone to think that global warming is happening but they are also much more apt to worry about it than independents and Republicans.
That partisan split emerged loud and clear when Yale University researchers crunched a separate set of numbers from an in-depth climate change study they released in mid-October. The prospect of a looming Election Day prompted the survey collaborators to examine what role politics play in attitudes toward global warming.
"We always go into our research with an open mind," Anthony Leiserowitz, with the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, told SolveClimate News. "These results are not a surprise because it's a phenomenon we've been witnessing for many years now."
Researchers first noticed the parties drifting apart on this issue in 1997, he said, adding that the gulf has widened considerably since then.
As the accompanying graphs show, 81 percent of Democrats think global warming is happening, compared to 57 percent of independents and 47 percent of Republicans.
When asked what is causing the Earth to warm, 68 percent of Democrats attributed it to human activities, while 51 percent of independents and 33 percent of Republicans had that same response.
A third section of the newly released numbers reveals that 78 percent of Democrats are very or somewhat worried about global warming. That compares to 52 percent of independents and 32 percent of Republicans.
Yale's overall 60-page report, called "Americans' Knowledge of Climate Change," was funded by the National Science Foundation. Surveys of 2,030 American adults were conducted between June 24 and July 22. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percent.
The divide clearly has implications for the ability to pass national legislation, Leiserowitz said, adding that the tea party and Republicans wielded the words cap and trade as a weapon against Democrats and some Republicans in the primaries and throughout the campaign season.
"Literally, millions of dollars are being spent to attack cap and trade and anybody who voted for it," he said. "This is the crazy season of the election and the final week is especially insane."
The Yale researcher said he was dumbfounded that a bill such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act—which the House passed in 2009—became a wedge issue during the campaign season.
"That's a surprise," he said, adding that climate change never surfaces near the top of lists that Gallup and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press compile after asking people to name national priorities for Congress and the president. "Climate change is always at the bottom. Now the economy dwarfs everything else, and that has been the case since 2008."
Polls continue to show that most Americans support legislative action to control carbon emissions, Leiserowitz said, but the path forward is prickly and loaded with land-mine language.
Interestingly, a recent New York Times/CBS News poll—released just a few days ago—reveals that a large majority of the American public wants the majority party in Congress to choose compromise over principle. In other words, people want senators and representatives to tackle the issues so they can make accomplishments instead of sticking to their positions and contributing to gridlock.
Bipartisan congressional action on curbing heat-trapping gases is still a possibility, Leiserowitz said, but language matters. Legislators have to avoid now-toxic terms such as "cap-and-trade system." Instead, they need to draw on words that can unite sparring forces around the more neutral-sounding "energy legislation" because everybody is on board with catch phrases such as "energy independence" and "national security."
"It isn't a lost cause," he concluded about prospects for Congress. "It hasn't become as polarized as gay marriage. There's still a way forward. We'll know more come Tuesday."