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Global Warming: Democrats and Republicans Agree

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Wait, what?

Contrary to the polarized positions that politicians and commentators often take in the media, Americans do not disagree about global warming or what to do about it. The vast majority of citizens in every U.S. state believe global warming has been happening and that human actions are part of the cause—including residents of states that vote strongly Republican.

If that’s not surprising enough, more than 60 percent of Americans in every state favor government-imposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions from businesses and power plants. “Politicians may be divided, but the public is not,” says Jon Krosnick, a senior fellow at Stanford University who assessed 21 surveys about climate change that include more than 19,000 people combined.

Krosnick analyzed replies to more than a dozen questions about global warming and found that the difference in responses among people from different states rarely exceeded 25 percent. For example, when residents were asked about the statement “past global warming has been caused by humans or about as equally by humans and natural causes,” the lowest rate of agreement was about 65 percent (Utah) and the highest was about 90 percent (Rhode Island).

>>see the responses to all questions here>>

Krosnick cites several reasons for the disconnect between what average Americans think and what politicians say their constituents think. For starters, the wording of survey questions can lead to misleading impressions. For example, certain surveys have used language such as “From what you’ve read and heard, do you think there is solid evidence that the Earth is warming up?” People will reply “no,” Krosnick explains, “because politicians and pundits drive what people read and hear.”

Second, most surveys are nationwide, and politicians tend to ignore the results because they don’t think residents in their state match the national averages. Krosnick broke down the replies to questions by state so governors, senators and representatives could see the viewpoints within their borders. That exercise, he says, indicates that “a huge percentage of the public supports legislation that politicians have yet to pass.”

A nationwide survey done by Yale University and George Mason University at the end of 2013, after Krosnick’s analysis, supports his conclusions. It found that 83 percent of Americans said the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs. And 71 percent said global warming should be a “very high,” “high” or “medium” priority for the president and Congress. Lead researcher Edward Maibach at George Mason said in a statement, “Much of our national dialogue about climate and energy policy focuses on divisions between the political parties. Our findings show that while there are important policy differences between Democrats and Republicans, there is also some common ground on which the nation could build an effective response to climate change.”

To make progress, Krosnick thinks scientists and other leaders must continue to educate the public. The largest spread in answers to the questions he analyzed, when comparing states, was whether individuals consider themselves “highly knowledgeable” about global warming; only 30 percent to 60 percent of respondents said yes, depending on the state.

Oddly, fewer than half the residents in every state believe global warming is “extremely important” to them personally, although many more consider it “very” or “moderately” important. Krosnick is not sure what’s behind that distribution, but he’s working on an answer.

Image courtesy DonkeyHotey on Flickr

Mark Fischetti About the Author: Mark Fischetti is a senior editor at Scientific American who covers energy, environment and sustainability issues. Follow on Twitter @markfischetti.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Alchemist1342 5:53 pm 03/18/2014

    To suggest that Members of Congress aren’t familiar with what their constituents believe about climate changes is probably not very accurate. The Members know.

    Link to this
  2. 2. jctyler 7:14 pm 03/18/2014

    job done

    Link to this
  3. 3. z34aa 11:41 pm 03/18/2014

    @Alchemist1342

    It really depends on what the Members of Congress consider their ‘constituents’. Is it everyone in their state or district? Or is it just the ones that are part of their party? Is it all of that party, or is only the members of their party that are most likely to vote consistently?

    And that doesn’t even bring up money, which is an important ‘constituent’ for everyone in politics.

    Link to this
  4. 4. CBDunkerson 11:58 am 03/19/2014

    Alchemist1342, is this like they ‘knew’ that Romney was going to win?

    Link to this
  5. 5. Alchemist1342 4:30 pm 03/19/2014

    @z34aa

    By definition, a constituent is someone who can vote for or against you. But, note that I didn’t say the Members voted the way their constituents wanted, I said they know their constituent’s views are.

    What a Member votes on depends mostly on what will get them re-elected, which could be the views of the voters or the views of those who contribute the most money. Once in a-great-while you might find someone who actually votes their conscience.

    @CBDunkerson,

    Never forget, with politicians what they know and what they say are rarely the same thing.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Taxpayer1301 5:13 pm 03/19/2014

    And many of us know that Congress Members act on what their big donors, ie. the oil/gas industry want–that ain’t the same as their constituents.

    Link to this
  7. 7. tryreason 6:08 pm 03/20/2014

    The reason many people don’t feel that global warming will have a major impact on them is they believe the negative consequences are a lifetime away.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Willian Holder 5:38 am 03/22/2014

    A third of Americans believe the sun rotates around the earth. They’ll believe whatever headline you throw at them but with RSS satellite data confirming no warming for over 17 years and various studies suggesting as many as 9 different reasons for the hiatus to include the most recent – the fragrance from pine needles – it’s clear our CO2 emissions are not the primary driver of climate. As a result global warming has become climate change – a natural and ongoing process. CO2 a gas required to sustain life, is now referred to as Carbon a solid and equated with soot.
    It’s shocking that countless young adults will graduate high school this year believing the world is dangerously warming even though temperatures have been stable during the entirety of their lives. It is shocking these kids believe our co2 emissions present a great threat to the environment and are largely ignorant of the fact that all environmental damage to date is the result of hunting, habitat encroachment and habitat destruction. A generation of resources and talent wasted on this folly.

    Link to this
  9. 9. StephenWeber 12:14 pm 03/23/2014

    @William Holder.
    The fragrance from pine needles is a wonderful spin there. Although CO2 is in the production scheme of all plants through their leaves or needles, that doesn’t mean that the scent of a pine needle is CO2.
    If you want to spend so much time pretending to be a firm foothold to blast away at scientists, try to avoid such childish examples. Because it shows that you have no grasp on what science is or isn’t.

    Link to this
  10. 10. jctyler 2:28 pm 03/23/2014

    holden:

    “A third of Americans believe the sun rotates around the earth.”

    Nope. Not “a third” and not in the “present”. It was 20% of the adult population and you completely misquote a study from 2005 (Miller/ChicagoNW U).

    The rest of your comment is equally strange:

    “… countless young adults will graduate high school this year believing the world is dangerously warming even though temperatures have been stable during the entirety of their lives.”

    That is factually, scientifically wrong from ANY POV one looks at it, a distortion of reality, numbers and reports that is mindboggling. Inform yourself before commenting. As is you’re clueless.

    Link to this

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