- Differences in attitudes found mostly along party lines and between generations
- Majority of national sample supports America’s re-entry into the Paris Climate accord
- Americans weigh in on climate questions touching schools and local communities
ST. LEO, FL – A clear majority of Americans continue to show concern over global climate change, just as in prior surveys taken during prior years in the springtime, the most recent survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) shows. Just over 72 percent nationally agreed they are concerned about global climate change, with 37.5 percent saying they are very concerned and 34.7 percent saying they are somewhat concerned.
The same question was put to residents of Florida, the home of Saint Leo University and the polling institute. Seventy-five percent of Florida respondents report concern, with 39.2 percent saying they are very concerned and 35.8 indicating they are somewhat concerned. (A full release on Florida is also posted.)
Similar results have been recorded over the last several years. Since 2016, the combined level of concern has been greater than 70 percent from the national sample; in the Florida sample, the concern level fell slightly in 2019, but only to about 69 percent.
The survey goes on to ask another 30 or so questions about people’s attitudes and observations on climate change as they may have observed it, and about ideas for coping with climate change.
This year, the survey was conducted between February 7- 14 among 1,000 respondents nationally, and among a separate sample of 500 respondents in Florida. With those sample sizes, the margin of error for the national results is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points, and plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for the Florida findings.
Dr. Laura Altfeld, an associate professor of biology and ecology at Saint Leo University, also reviewed the findings in detail. While findings show a broad public level of awareness and concern about climate change that is “encouraging,” Altfeld said, she was struck the “disparity” between Republicans, Democrats, and independents in looking at the issue. Respondents identified their own party affiliation in the survey. Nationally, respondents included: 270 Republicans; 310 Democrats; and 420 people with no party affiliation, a membership in another political party, or who are unsure of an affiliation.
For instance, Altfeld noticed that while 72.2 percent of respondents overall in the national base report being concerned about climate change, only 50.7 percent of Republicans do, compared with 90.3 percent of Democrats. Among independent respondents, 73.2 percent report being concerned about climate change, which is essentially even with the overall average. In Florida, there were also differences in levels of concern that varied with party affiliation: of the overall, 75 percent are concerned, as are 60.6 percent of Republicans, 91.8 percent of Democrats, and 74.3 percent of independents.
Age also makes a difference—though not as much as party does. Of the national respondents in the survey who are ages 18 to 35, 80.7 percent report being concerned, which is more than 8 percentage points higher than the average. With the next age group up, those from 36 to 55, 71.8 percent of respondents show concern, about the same as the average. Of those ages 56 and up, 68.9 percent report concern. The level of concern about climate change among the younger participants is understandable, Altfeld said: “They’ve got a lot longer to deal with this.”
The political-party and age patterns reappeared in responses to questions about whether the survey participants consider climate change very responsible, somewhat responsible, not very responsible, or not at all responsible for physical changes around them. For instance:
- When it comes to warmer temperatures, 71.3 percent of the overall national sample hold climate change somewhat or very responsible. Among GOP respondents, 52.6 percent say climate change is responsible, compared to 84.5 percent of Democrats and 74.0 percent of independents. Within the 18-to-35-year-old group in the sample, 74.8 percent hold climate change responsible, about 4 percentage points higher than each of the two groups of older counterparts.
- With rising oceans and flooding seacoasts, 70.5 percent of the overall national sample hold climate change responsible. Along party lines, 51.1 percent of Republicans hold climate change responsible compared to 84.2 percent of Democrats and 73.5 percent of independents. Of younger respondents, 73.8 percent consider climate change responsible, about even with those ages 36 to 55, but 5 percentage points higher than those age 56 and older.
- With wildfires, which were a big news story over the summer, the differences in attitudes were stark. Among the overall national populations, 62.2 percent say climate change is responsible. By comparison, 39.3 percent of Republicans say climate change is a cause, while 78.7 percent of Democrats and 65.2 percent of independents say climate change is responsible. Of respondents age 18 to 35, 71.3 percent hold climate change responsible. That is more than 9 percentage points higher than the overall average, 9 points higher than the response from the 36-to-55 group, and 13 percentage points greater than the average for those 56 and older.
Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist, offered this explanation. “We observe that party identification affects voters’ evaluations of the economy and other phenomena,” Orlando said, “so it stands to reason that it would also determine views on the state of the environment.”
Opinions on new Biden policy actions
Because the timing of this survey coincided with the decision by President Joe Biden to recommit the United States to the Paris Climate Treaty, which requires participants to reduce the emission of gases to help limit global warming, the recent survey asked participants their opinions. The question was worded this way:
In December 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference concluded. While initially a participant, the United States pulled out of the agreement during the Trump Administration. The U.S. is now rejoining the pact. How strongly do you support or oppose the United States rejoining the Paris Agreement?
|Possible responses||U.S.- %||Florida – %|
On this issue, party affiliations corresponded with support or opposition. Although more than 59 percent of national respondents support rejoining the treaty, only 35.9 percent of Republicans did, compared to 81.6 percent of Democrats. Of independents, 57.7 percent support rejoining, which is practically even with the national average.
A higher proportion of the 18-to-35 age group nationally, at 70.8 percent, support the Paris Climate pact compared to the older survey participants. Those who support the pact among the 36-to-55 age group amount to 62.7 percent of their cohort, and among those 56 and older, supporters represent 52.1 percent.
The polling institute also asked about the controversial Keystone oil pipeline. Respondents were asked:
One of President Biden’s first executive orders was to cancel the Keystone crude oil pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Midwest and the U.S. Gulf Coast. Supporters of the executive order cite the pipeline’s negative impact on the environment while opponents of the order cite the loss of thousands of jobs as well as the loss of some domestic supply. Based on all you know or have heard, how strongly do you support or oppose the president’s decision?
|Possible responses||U.S. %||Florida %|
Of the 47.0 percent nationally who support the cancellation of the pipeline, there was also a big party split. Of Democrats polled nationally, 77.1 percent say they support the cancellation, compared to 41.5 percent of independents. Of Republicans in the sample, 20 percent say they were in support of stopping the pipeline.
There was also an apparent age rift in the national sample. Of those who are in the 18-to-35-years old group, 66.8 percent support stopping the pipeline, nearly 20 percentage points higher than the national overall average. Of those ages 36-to-55 years old, 52.5 percent support stopping the pipeline putting that group close to the average. Of those 56 and older, 35.1 support ceasing the project.
Orlando, the polling institute director, compared the results and said, “The Paris Agreement being slightly more popular than canceling the Keystone Pipeline probably has a lot to do with the concrete effect on jobs” and employment associated with the pipeline. Any negative effects on the labor market from rejoining the Paris Climate Treaty, Orlando observed, are “less tangible,” so the agreement is more broadly acceptable.
Policy decisions closer to local levels
The survey repeated two questions from prior years that respondents might encounter in their communities, regions, or school districts.
As various cities or groups of cities, such as Cincinnati, Boston, the Southeast Florida locale or smaller localities, began in recent years starting government offices locally to help adapt to flooding or multiple impacts of climate change, the polling institute started asking respondents if they were aware of such efforts near them. The institute also asked if people whether they consider it important or unimportant for their own area to establish an office, with employees, or a program to deal with climate change.
The national results show a combined 62.2 percent consider it either very important (29.7 percent) or somewhat important (32.5 percent). About 10 percent were unsure, leaving a little more than one-quarter, 27.7 percent, saying they consider the idea somewhat unimportant (10.8 percent) or not at all important (16.9 percent.) Florida results were similar.
Of the Republicans polled nationally, fewer than half, at 46.3 percent, consider the idea important, compared to 84.8 percent of Democrats. Of independents, 55.9 percent nationally consider the idea important. Younger respondents in the national sample, ages 18 to 35, are proponents: 81.7 percent said such an office or program is important, compared to 64.6 percent of 36-to-55 year olds, and 52.5 percent of those ages 56 and older.
The survey also again gauged support for teaching climate change in primary and secondary public schools as accepted theory. In the national sample, 67.6 said they agree either strongly or somewhat. (Florida results were similar.) Of the group in the national sample closest to their school days, the 18-to-35-year olds, 80.7 percent agree that climate change should be taught in schools. The other age groups showed agreement in the mid-60 percent range. Of Democrats, 88.4 percent nationally agree, as do 66.2 percent of independents. Of Republicans in the national sample, fewer than half agree, at 47 percent.
Immediate political implications
Judging from the overall findings on political opinions on environmental matters, Orlando, the polling institute director, said it appears the electorate continues to follow the same patterns evident during the Trump presidency. “Republicans may dig in a little more on these issues because in some ways ‘negative’ partisanship may be more powerful than ‘positive’ partisanship; that is to say that partisans are more likely to change their opinions based on opponents’ positions, rather than on the guidance from leaders of their own party. Part of this depends on how much of a priority President Biden makes the environment. Will he go beyond the low-hanging symbolic fruit? If he attempts to do so, then I expect Republican opposition to harden, as rejecting the president’s environmental policy will become a central facet of defeating him and his coalition in 2022 and beyond.”
Orlando added that he thinks with environmental matters, “President Biden will be constrained from going beyond the things he can accomplish via executive action. We’ve seen how precarious the Senate majority is for a popular COVID relief bill, let alone something that would likely be much more controversial.”
About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from February 7, 2021, through February 14, 2021, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.
The statewide survey was also conducted from February 7, 2021, through February 14, 2021, among a base of 500 respondents, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 500 respondents.
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, email@example.com, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416.
About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering 57 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 18,200 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 16 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 98,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.