Polling: Consensus emerges in climate change debate

If you expect those changing views to lead to action in Washington, however, think again.

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By Dante Chinni and Sally Bronston

WASHINGTON — The climate change debate has been a part of politics in Washington for decades now, but polling from 2018 shows that there may be a consensus emerging from the American public. A range of surveys show more people believe it is happening and more people believe humans are responsible.

If you expect those changing views to lead to action in Washington, however, think again. In the places where it counts, where laws and regulations are made, the feelings concerning what should be done about climate change are much more divided.

On the most basic level, there is big agreement that climate change is a real thing and is happening before our eyes, according to a massive survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication.

That data showed 70 percent of Americans believe “global warming is happening” and 57 percent believe “global warming is being caused mostly by human activities.”

That data showed 70 percent of Americans believe “global warming is happening” and 57 percent believe “global warming is being caused mostly by human activities.” In a nation as divided as the United States is right now, those are remarkable numbers.

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The American Communities Project went further and analyzed those data through its set of 15 different community types and found similar numbers. Large majorities in all types believe climate change is real and majorities in most communities believing humans are mostly causing the changes.

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll provides more evidence of a climate change majority.

The latest NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll provides more evidence of a climate change majority.

Two-thirds of those surveyed say they believe climate change is a serious problem and the nation needs to take action. That number is up 15 percentage points from 1999. At the same time, only 30 percent say we don’t know enough yet or that we don’t need to be concerned. That figure is down 13 points from 1999. That’s real movement.

And even more extraordinary in the poll is how uniform the numbers are the groups that believe climate change is a serious problem.

Even more extraordinary in the poll is how uniform the numbers are the groups that believe climate change is a serious problem.

Across a range of races and ethnicities there is widespread agreement. More than 60 percent of whites, Hispanics and African-Americans believe more needs to be done. And even the urban/rural divide largely disappears on the issue. More than 50 percent of those who live in cities, suburbs and rural locations agree that action is needed.

So with all that agreement, Washington is sure to make climate change a top priority, right? That’s where things get more complicated. The one area where we still see a big disagreement is between the nation’s two major political parties.

The one area where we still see a big disagreement is between the nation's two major political parties.

Among Democrats, 71 percent say climate change is an urgent problem. That is a 42-point increase since 1999. For independent voters, 47 percent say they want action taken on climate change, a figure that is up 22 points since 1999.

But the number is much lower for Republicans; only 15 percent see a pressing need to deal with the issue. More noteworthy than the difference, however, is the stability of the Republican figure. That 15 percent mark is unchanged since the same question was asked in 1999.

And even with all the movement and the apparent agreement in these numbers, the unchanging nature of that partisan split is arguably the most crucial in terms of national policy.

There are more than 300 million people in the United States, but politically speaking there are two major parties and on the issues of whether and how to deal with climate change they have decidedly different views.

Public opinion in one thing, but as long as those party differences persist, movement on the issue is likely going to be hard to come by in Washington.