Yesterday, Pew released a new poll on public knowledge of climate change. The intrapartisan divides were perhaps the most interesting part.
From their overall results, 67% of those surveyed believed that there
was solid evidence that the earth is warming. 44% (2/3 of that group)
attributed the warming mostly to human activity, and 18% (roughly ¼ of
that group) attributed it to natural patterns.
26% of overall adults said that there was no solid evidence, with
about the same percentage claiming that we “don’t know enough yet” as
claiming that it’s “just not happening.”
As has been consistently the case, there are clear divides between
Democrats (and Democratic-leaning Independents) and Republicans (and
Republican-leaning Independents). Among the center-left crowd, 84%
agreed that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming, and
three-fourths of those (64% of the total center-left) attributed the
warming to human activity.
We see an interesting divide within the Republican Party, as Pew
chose to divide the center-right into Tea Party-identifiers and non-Tea
Party identifiers. Among the Tea Party crowd, 70% denied the existence
of solid evidence for global warming, and 41% of the Tea Party crowd
claimed that global warming “just isn’t happening.” More people said
that we “don’t know enough yet” than acknowledged global warming, with
only 9% of the total Tea Party crowd recognizing the impact of human
Among the non-Tea Party identifying right, 61% acknowledged that the
earth is warming. A slim majority of that contingent (32%) attributed
global warming to human activity, whereas about two-fifths (24%)
attributed it to natural patterns. 30% of the non-Tea Party center-right
crowd claimed that there was no solid evidence, with slightly more
leaning toward the argument that scientists don’t know enough yet than
toward the claim that global warming is categorically not happening.
The contrast between the two factions produced an interestingly
balanced overall picture among the right-of-center world: 46%
acknowledging global warming, 46% not—and relatively even splits among
the four explanations.
I would caution people, however, against exaggerating the
significance of the 61% number among the non-Tea Party right. Only 32%
of the non-Tea Party right attributed global warming to human activity.
If you don’t view human impact as the main cause, you aren’t likely to
agree with prescriptive solutions based on mitigating human impact. The
“natural patterns” argument is often espoused by the so-called
“moderates” in the Republican Party who don’t want to look as
anti-science as the denialists while still adhering to a form of “soft
denial.” If you believe that natural patterns alone (or mostly) drive
global warming, then you can deny the need to make the systemic changes
to energy, agriculture, transportation, land use, consumption patterns,
etc., that are needed. You might support some "resilience plans" to
address the effects, but if you support any preventative action, it will
probably be the costly and ineffective idea of geoengineering.
There is a glimmer of optimism in the graph showing opinions over
time, considering that Republican and Democratic numbers are both
ticking upwards slightly. Independent numbers, for whatever reason, have
dipped recently, but across party affiliations, there has been a
significant rebound since 2009-2010, the height of the misinformation
However, if we start discussing climate politics again (as we were
doing then), I’m sure that the numbers will swing downwards again as the
fossil fuel-funded denial machine comes back into full swing. The high
point was still in 2006, after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out
in theaters and the issue received its most extensive media attention to
date (without as strong of a "he said/she said" political frame, such
as that which it received in subsequent years).
It’s interesting to note that more Democrats than ever before (in the
span of polling) acknowledge that human impact is the driving force
behind global warming. Independent and Republican recognition peaked in
2006 but has recovered partially from the lull in 2009-2010.
I found the data on the effects of education to be particularly noteworthy as well.
As you can see, there is a huge gap (29%) between Democrats with a
college education and Democrats without a college education on the
question of human impact. Education, however, had minimal effect on
Republicans and Independents.
I've read about this correlation between scientific literacy
(education) and increased acknowledgment of human influence on climate
among Democrats before; however, past polling
has at times shown a negative correlation between scientific literacy
and belief in human impact on climate among Republicans ( the "smart
The success of the fossil fuel-funded skepticism-denial machine shows
in the responses to the question of whether scientists “generally
agree” that human activity causes global warming. As anyone on Daily Kos
should know, about 98% of climate scientists (if not more) believe in anthropogenic climate change.
Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus, only 54% of the
public thought that scientists “generally agreed” on the matter, with
37% saying that they didn’t. 71% of Democrats—too low in my
opinion—correctly recognized the existence of such consensus, with 23%
denying it. 41% of Republicans acknowledged the existence of scientific
consensus, whereas 48% denied it.
Independents broke in favor of reality
(52% to 39%), but not nearly as much as Democrats did. The
skepticism-denial misinformation campaign has achieved quite a bit, not
without the help of a scientifically illiterate media trapped in a false