President Trump's climate skepticism may be swaying fewer in GOP

Among liberal and moderate Republicans, 70 percent said they believed that global warming was occurring, a seven percentage point increase from 2017.
Image: The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen behind the smokestack from the Capitol Power Plant
After Trump's inauguration in 2017, the number of Republicans saying "I don't know" to the existence of climate change and humanity's role in it increased.Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA file

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By James Rainey

Climate change is becoming real for more Republicans — an increasing number of them are likely to believe that global warming is happening and that the changes are occurring because of human activity, according to a poll released Tuesday.

That’s a reversal of findings from a year ago, when President Donald Trump’s skepticism about climate change appeared to be pushing more Republicans toward a lack of conviction on the issue, according to the survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

The decline of the so-called Trump Effect, while incremental, has been enough to help create new highs in the percentage of Americans who accept the reality of global warming and humanity’s role in causing it, the pollsters found.

Seventy four percent of Americans now say that global warming is happening and 62 percent say that human activities are the cause, according to the poll conducted in November and December and involving 1,114 adults nationwide.

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Among liberal and moderate Republicans, 70 percent said they believed that global warming was occurring, a seven percentage point increase from 2017. While only 42 percent of conservative Republicans held that view, that was still a five percentage point increase from the year prior.

After Trump's inauguration in 2017, the number of Republicans saying "I don't know" to the existence of climate change and humanity's role in it increased. Previous research has shown that "cues" from political leaders can cause such changes in public opinion, the pollsters said.

"The declines in Republican acceptance of human-caused global warming in 2017 may thus have been driven by a 'Trump Effect,'" Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale program, told NBC News.

In an emailed statement explaining the poll, he added that "the statements and actions — an announcement that he will pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, his efforts to reverse the Clean Power Plan, and prior tweets suggesting that climate change is a hoax — likely had an effect on his fellow Republicans."

As of the most recent survey, the percentage of Republicans who said they believe global warming is happening had increased from 47 percent to 52 percent, from a year prior. Similarly, the percentage of Republicans who say they believe that the changes in the climate are related to human activities increased from 29 percent in late 2017 to 36 percent in late 2018.

"These results suggest that the 'Trump Effect' has worn off and that Republicans ... are re-engaging the issue," Leiserowitz said, "having returned to near historic highs, though still at much lower levels than Democrats or Independents."

Leiserowitz said that “at least part of the shift seems to be driven by a dawning awareness that climate impacts are here and now.”

Still, climate change has not emerged as a front burner issue for many Americans. A Pew Research Center survey released Monday, in advance of Trump’s State of the Union address, found that climate change ranked behind 13 other issues when Americans were asked their top priorities.

Some 44 percent ranked climate change as a top priority, though 56 percent said that environmental issues should be a primary focus for Trump and Congress.

The Pew survey, taken among 1,505 adults Jan. 9-14, found that views remain sharply divided along party lines. Democrats are 43 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say protecting the environment should be a top priority this year (74 percent vs. 31 percent) and 46 points more likely to cite global climate change as a top priority (67 percent compared to 21 percent.)

In a survey from November, Pew found that voters overall believe Democrats are better positioned to tackle those issues. The survey found that 55 percent of the public said Democrats in Congress would have a better approach to the environment while only 19 percent said Trump would have the better approach on the environment.