A Utah State University professor’s study shows people’s views on climate change are not as simple as which political party they belong to.
Peter Howe, USU assistant professor of environment and society, and his colleagues at the University of California-Santa Barbara and Yale University, used state voter information and surveys on climate change between 2008 and 2016 to estimate the geographic distribution of views on climate change between Democrats and Republicans.
“The fact that climate change is a very polarized issue along partisan lines has been known for a while, and it has certainly become more polarized over time,” Howe said. “What our study did, for the first time, we actually were able to break down geographically how opinions about climate change vary between Republicans and Democrats across states and congressional districts.”
Howe’s study asked Democrats and Republicans about their beliefs regarding climate change, risk perceptions of the phenomenon and policies associated with combating it.
Howe and his team confirmed that there is a nationwide divide along party lines over climate change, but there’s also variation within the two major parties.
According to the findings of Howe’s study, available on Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication website, Utahns’ opinions on whether climate change is happening is not drastically different within Republican and Democratic spheres.
Fifty-one percent of Republicans in Congressional District 1, which includes Cache Valley, believe global warming is happening. That figure is just a few percentage points higher than what people in other parts of the state believe.
Among Democrats who live in Congressional District 1, 84 percent believe global warming is happening. Only two districts have a higher percentage, 85 percent, of Democrats who believe in it.
It is in the Midwest and Eastern states where opinion about climate change is more diverse.
Take Ohio, where 82 percent of Democrats in Congressional District 12 believe in climate change, compared to 76 percent of them in Congressional District 6.
Meanwhile, 50 percent of Republicans in Ohio’s Congressional District 10 believe in climate change, compared 40 percent in District 6.
“It helps to identify there is that variation, even within parties,” Howe said.
Despite varying views on the issue of climate change within political parties, there are some issues where Democrats and Republicans are in agreement, according to Howe’s study. Those include funding research into renewable energy sources or regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant — both the Dems and GOP are at least 50 percent supportive in all states.
To that point, over 70 percent of Republicans and more than 80 percent of Democrats in all of Utah’s congressional districts support funding research for renewable energy.
Roughly the same percentage of Utah’s Democrats in all congressional districts support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, while over 50 percent of Utah Republicans agree with that policy.
“We may be more divided on the issue of climate change than we are actually divided on the solutions,” Howe said.
Last year, Howe conducted another study on climate change opinions, which found that whether people believe the earth is warming or not greatly depends on the climate they’re experiencing where they live.
Howe sees a relationship between the findings of that study and the current one. He said people are starting to have different experiences with the impacts of climate change.
“Like people in Florida, who are experiencing sea level rise and have experienced some major hurricanes this year, or as we’re seeing the fires in Southern California right now,” he said. “We may start to see those having an impact on people’s opinions about climate change.”