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Study: US Views on Climate Change Fall Along Partisan Lines

A fisherman walks on the shores of the Arabian Sea, littered with plastic bags and other garbage, in Mumbai, India.
A fisherman walks on the shores of the Arabian Sea, littered with plastic bags and other garbage, in Mumbai, India.

Americans views on climate change are split along the same lines as their politics. That's the headline from a new Pew Research Center survey.

The study released Tuesday is called "The Politics of Climate" and it shows a stark divide among self-described liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans about the human impact on the climate and what to do about it.

The biggest divide comes when Pew asked respondents if they trust climate scientists. According to the study, seventy percent of liberal Democrats trust climate scientists to give accurate information about the causes of climate change, while just 15 percent of conservative Republicans trust the science on the issue.

When asked if most scientists believe humans are having an impact on the planet, only 16 percent of conservative Republicans say the science is settled, compared to 55 percent of liberal Democrats.

Cary Funk, from Pew, spoke with VOA about the results. She said one of the surprising elements of the study is that contrary to liberal pundits, conservatives aren't necessarily anti-science, just anti-climate change. The study suggests she says that "... political differences among Americans are largely concentrated in their views about climate scientists, per se, rather than scientists, more generally."

The study did not ask respondents where they get information on climate change, but did note that "... 72 percent of conservative Republicans say the media exaggerates the threat of climate change, while 64 percent of liberal Democrats say the media does not take the threat of climate change seriously enough."

Where the Left and the Right Come Together

Where Americans do come together is on how to move forward. In this study a vast majority of Americans (89 and 83 percent respectively) support expanding solar and wind power.

Funk says, "It shows some potential common ground among Republicans and Democrats on energy issues."

But when it comes to expanding access to more traditional forms of power: oil and gas, fracking, nuclear and coal the partisan divide reappears.

"We find more political divide over views about fossil fuel energy sources and nuclear energy," Funk says.

The Pew study also indicates almost half of all Americans are taking a serious look at going renewable. The study found 44 percent of American homeowners have installed or have given serious thought to installing solar panels at home. Their reasons include cost savings and helping the environment.

Another concept that transcends politics appears to be the general idea of "environmentalism." The Pew study found 75 percent of Americans say they are particularly concerned about helping the environment as they go about daily living.

The Takeaway

Pew said it's unclear why exactly climate scientists are so broadly mistrusted by conservatives, and the study notably did not look at the impact that the politicization of climate change has had on people's opinions. But when the Republican and Democratic candidates for president can argue about the reality of climate change in a national debate, it's no surprise that Americans who identify closely with a party might fall along the same lines.

But the study suggests that despite the partisan differences on climate change, the public is concerned and wants to see more renewable energy.

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    Kevin Enochs

    Kevin Enochs is an award-winning content creator who has been explaining the intricacies of the natural world to television and online audiences for over 20 years.

    He perfected his craft working for CNN and the National Geographic Channel before heading to the Voice of America in 2012.