Politics still drive how Americans view climate change

"Political ideology continues to be the single greatest determinant of Americans' views on climate change," says Sheril Kirshenbaum. (Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr)

More than three out of four Americans—or 76 percent—now believe that climate change is occurring. The number is up from 68 percent just one year ago, but partisan politics are still a huge factor in how people respond.

The results are from a recent survey that shows growing support for environmental protection in several areas, especially among Democrats and millennials. It also reveals sharp political divisions among Americans on energy issues.

For example, 90 percent of Democrats say climate change is occurring, compared with 59 percent of Republicans (up from 47 percent six months ago); 29 percent of Republicans say climate change is not occurring, compared with only 3 percent of Democrats.

“Political ideology continues to be the single greatest determinant of Americans’ views on climate change,” says Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the University of Texas at Austin energy poll. “Party affiliation also colors perceptions of other controversial energy topics, including efforts to reduce coal-fired power and levy a tax on carbon.”

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Energy also appears to be an important issue in the upcoming presidential election. For example, 52 percent of survey respondents say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports reducing coal as an energy source, up from 43 percent in March.

Sixty-two percent of Democrats support the policy, compared with 40 percent of Republicans; 65 percent of respondents age 35 and younger support reducing coal use, compared with 42 percent age 65 and older.

Carbon tax
  • Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who favors imposition of a carbon tax, up from 28 percent six months ago.
  • Fifty percent of Democrats support a tax on carbon, compared with 26 percent of Republicans; 54 percent of millennials support a carbon tax, compared with 27 percent of Americans age 65 or older.
Renewable energy
  • Sixty-two percent of Americans say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports requiring utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, up from 54 percent six months ago. Nearly 3 out of 4 Democrats (74 percent) support such a requirement, compared with 50 percent of Republicans.
Gasoline prices
  • Today, 58 percent of respondents describe gasoline prices as high, compared with 66 percent in March and 92 percent a year ago. And, 62 percent expect gasoline prices to increase six months from now, compared with 84 percent in March and 76 percent a year ago.
  • Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) are familiar with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, compared with 44 percent a year ago. Among those familiar, 43 percent support fracking and 41 oppose it; a year ago, 44 percent supported the practice and 41 percent opposed it.
  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents familiar with fracking continue to say cities should be able to ban it within their borders even if state law otherwise permits it. Today, 18 percent oppose granting cities such local authority, compared with 25 percent six months ago.
Export of natural gas
  • The percentage of Americans who favor policies allowing the export of U.S. natural gas has increased, from 34 percent a year ago to 38 percent today, while opposition to the export of domestic gas has declined from 28 percent six months ago to 23 percent today.

Source: University of Texas at Austin