According to new polling data from the Carsey Institute, climate change has become the most polarizing political issue of our time.
Survey researcher Lawrence Hamilton polled 568 New Hampshire residents and found that Democrats and Republicans disagree most on climate change — moreso than on abortion, gun control, the death penalty, or evolution. Specifically, 83 percent of Democrats acknowledge that humans are contributing to global warming, while only 36 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans believe the same. Tea Party Republicans are even worse on the issue, with only 23 percent agreeing with the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.
The findings, Hamilton wrote, represent “a changing political landscape in which scientific ideas and information that are accepted by most scientists are, nevertheless, highly controversial among the general public.”
But even when it comes to belief of scientific information, Republicans still have a harder time coming to terms with climate science than other environmental science issues. According to the poll, 60 percent of traditional Republicans say they trust scientists on the environment, though only 36 percent acknowledge climate change. Tea Party Republicans are a little more consistent, with 28 percent claiming they trust scientists on environmental issues — a staggering amount of distrust, but much closer to their 23 percent on climate change.
So why, besides political party, would there be such staggering divisiveness on environmental science and climate? According to the poll, it could be related to news media. In addition to polling on beliefs, Hamilton also collected information about the type of news people consume on a daily basis, and found that those who listen to New Hampshire public radio (NHPR) place higher trust in scientists and have a greater acceptance of climate science. NHPR’s news coverage is often built around one-on-one conversations with scientists, the report said.
“Hearing from scientists directly heightens public awareness of what scientists do, what they know, and particularly how they know it,” Hamilton wrote.
Though the poll only looked at local media, the results do suggest that people who consume less science-based news will be more likely to dismiss or distrust science. Unfortunately, climate change news on a national scale has been dominated by political talking heads, which has the effect of misleading viewers as to what the actual scientific community thinks about the issue.