A record number of Americans — nearly three quarters — understand there is “solid evidence” that global warming is happening, according to a new poll.
And a record number (60 percent) said they know “humans are either primarily (34 percent) or partially responsible (26 percent) for the warming,” according to the long-running National Surveys on Energy and the Environment (NSEE) by Muhlenberg College and University of Michigan, which interviewed 751 adults.
At the same time, however, the pollsters note, the “divide between Democrats and Republicans on the existence of [human-caused] global warming is also at record levels.”
The pollsters (and the media) make a great deal of this growing partisan divide, but that growth appears to be at least partly driven by a drop in the percentage of people self-identifying as Republican.
As Trump chases moderates out of the party, those left are more conservative, more extreme in their views, and more prone to climate science denial.
As a June analysis by Brookings pointed out, “Trump owns a shrinking Republican party.” The authors explain that GOP party identification “took a sharp drop at the end of George W. Bush’s second term and never really recovered. The trend seems to have taken another drop after Trump’s election.”
Not only has GOP party affiliation dropped sharply since the election, it appears to have dropped most sharply among millennials, who are the age group most concerned about global warming and its impacts.
Based on interviews with more than 10,000 voters, the Pew Research Center reported in March that “increasing numbers of millennials identify with Democrats rather than Republican.”
At the same time, Pew noted in a January report that “addressing global climate change is the only issue, among 19 included in the survey, which is viewed by significantly more people under 30 (56%) than those 65 and older (37%) as a top policy priority.”
If Trump is chasing moderates and millennials out of the GOP, then the remaining pool of Republicans will be more prone to climate denial. And under those circumstances, any survey on an issue like global warming will show an increase in political polarization, when much of it is simply a shift in partisan identification.
Overall, the NSEE survey contains good news. “People are telling us they are experiencing a climate that isn’t what they remember in the past and the evidence itself, such as declining polar ice, is having an effect,” as one of the lead pollsters told the Guardian.
“Americans,” he added, “are moving to a lot more confident space on this.”