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Democrats worry a lot about global warming --- everybody else, not so much

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Byron York,Climate Change,Global Warming

A new Gallup survey shows a stark partisan divide in Americans' beliefs on global warming. About one-third of the public -- mostly Democrats -- say they worry "a great deal" about global warming, while a much larger number, mostly Republicans and independents, say they worry about warming "only a little" or "not at all" or "a fair amount."

At the same time, a solid majority of Americans express great concern about a number of other environmental issues. It's just global warming that doesn't bother them much.

On the question of global warming, 34 percent say they worry about it a great deal. That is in contrast to the 60 percent who say they worry a great deal about pollution of America's drinking water; 53 percent who say they worry a great deal about contamination of soil and water by toxic waste; and 53 percent who say they worry a great deal about pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Slightly smaller numbers of Americans are deeply concerned about other issues: 46 percent say they worry a great deal about air pollution; 41 percent say they worry a great deal about the extinction of plant and animal species; and 41 percent say they worry a great deal about the loss of tropical rain forests. Only after all those other concerns comes global warming, at 34 percent. (When Gallup asked about concern over "climate change," the number was 35 percent, suggesting the name doesn't make much difference.)

There are significant partisan divisions on the warming issue. Gallup found that 56 percent of Democrats say they worry a great deal about global warming, while just 29 percent of independents and 16 percent of Republicans say the same thing. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats say they worry a fair amount about warming, compared to 19 percent of independents and 22 percent of Republicans. Finally, 63 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independents say they worry about warming only a little or not at all, while only 18 percent of Democrats say the same thing.

"Democrats appear to have widely accepted the warnings about global warming," writes Gallup, while Republicans have not. "So long as global warming remains a politically charged issue, it will likely lag behind other environmental issues as a public concern."

That lag is striking. Among the public overall, there's a big difference between the 34 percent who worry a great deal about global warming and the 60 percent who worry a great deal about pollution of drinking water. (Gallup did not release partisan breakdowns on the other issues, but if 60 percent of Americans agree on something, there is likely a significant amount of bipartisan support.) In addition, concern about pollution of drinking water is rising — up seven percentage points in the last year — while concern about global warming is basically unchanged.

That 60 percent figure suggests a political strategy for Democrats who want to push Republicans on environmental issues. Rather than hold all-night talkathons about global warming, why not stage an event about the alleged danger that fracking in the oil and gas industry presents to the drinking water supply? No, it wouldn't unite all Democrats -- energy-state lawmakers would most certainly stay away -- but it would at least address a widespread public concern.

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