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Social & Policy Issues
Democrats Drive Rise in Concern About Global Warming
Social & Policy Issues

Democrats Drive Rise in Concern About Global Warming

by Jim Norman
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 66% of Democrats now worry a great deal, up nine points from 2016
  • Independents are also more worried; Republicans are not
  • Gap between parties significantly wider than on other issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A landmark year in 2016 for global warming politics has further deepened the already formidable divide between Republicans and Democrats on the issue. Two-thirds (66%) of Democrats say they worry about global warming a great deal, compared with 18% of Republicans.

Partisan Gap Widens on Worries About Global Warming

The 66% of Democrats worrying a great deal about the issue is the highest percentage in Gallup's annual polling on the question since at least 2000 and is nine percentage points above last year's previous high of 57%. Forty-five percent of independents now say they worry a great deal, a jump of 11 points from 2016. The rise in concern among both Democrats and independents has pushed the overall percentage of Americans saying they worry about global warming to 45% -- the highest level in nearly three decades of Gallup polling. Republicans' 18% who say they worry a great deal is the same as last year's percentage and 11 points below the party's high of 29% in 2000.

The widening gap between Republicans and Democrats comes after a year that highlighted vast differences between the parties on global warming issues. In April 2016, the United States joined 195 other countries in signing the Paris Agreement on climate change -- the most comprehensive international agreement to date on combatting global warming. It had been a long-standing goal of Democratic President Barack Obama, who said of the day the agreement was signed: "History may well judge it as a turning point for our planet."

But in November, only four days after the agreement went into effect, Republican Donald Trump was elected president on a campaign that included a vow to cancel U.S. involvement in the treaty.

Concern About Other Major Issues Less Affected by Partisan Differences

The glaring contrast in the percentages who are worried a great deal about global warming -- an overwhelming majority of Democrats on one side and fewer than one in five Republicans on the other -- resulted in a gap of 48 percentage points, notably larger than the partisan gap on five other environmental problems measured by Gallup and on all but one ("quality of the environment") of 13 other national problems asked elsewhere in the same poll. Even on such partisan issues as race relations and illegal immigration, the percentages of Republicans and Democrats who worry a great deal are within 30 points of each other.

Percentage Worried a Great Deal, by Political Party
  Democrats Republicans Difference
  % % pct. pts.
Environmental problems  
Global warming or climate change 66 18 48
Air pollution 63 28 35
Pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs 69 38 31
Extinction of plant and animal species 55 24 31
The loss of tropical rain forests 56 25 31
Pollution of drinking water 75 47 28
National problems  
The quality of the environment 66 21 45
Race relations 59 29 30
Hunger and homelessness 58 37 21
The availability and affordability of healthcare 67 48 19
The Social Security system 59 40 19
The economy 50 42 8
The availability and affordability of energy 28 20 8
Unemployment 33 26 7
Crime and violence 45 53 -8
Federal spending and the budget deficit 44 54 -10
Drug use 40 51 -11
The possibility of future terrorist attacks in the U.S. 35 52 -17
Illegal immigration 26 54 -28

Neither Party Unified on All Global Warming Issues

While the differences between Republicans and Democrats are stark on global warming issues, both parties are not unified within themselves on all aspects of global warming.

Despite their greater concern about global warming or climate change, 41% of Democrats do not expect global warming to ever be a threat to them or their way of life in their lifetime. And, in spite of Republicans' lack of concern about global warming, many acknowledge that increases in Earth's temperatures are occurring, and human activities may be the cause. Forty percent of Republicans believe that increases in Earth's temperatures are due more to the effects of pollution caused by humans, and 57% believe that natural changes in the environment are the cause.

In general, Democrats are much more likely to agree on the seriousness of the global warming problem than Republicans are to be skeptical about it.

  • Ninety percent of Democrats worry a great deal or a fair amount about global warming or climate change. Among Republicans, 36% worry a great deal or a fair amount, and 64% worry only a little or not at all.
  • Seventy-three percent of Democrats think the effects of global warming are already happening. Among Republicans, in addition to the 41% who think the effects are already happening, 21% expect the effects to occur at some point but not in their lifetime, and 20% believe the effects from global warming will never happen.
  • Among Democrats, 86% say most scientists believe global warming is occurring. Fifty-three percent of Republicans agree, while 35% say most scientists are unsure.
  • Republicans are more in agreement than Democrats about how the subject of global warming is treated in the news: 66% say it is generally exaggerated. Among Democrats, 52% say it is generally underestimated, and 37% say it is generally correct.
  • Eighty-five percent of Republicans do not think global warming will pose a serious threat to them or their way of life in their lifetime. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats think it will, and 41% think it will not.

Bottom Line

Even in the highly partisan atmosphere of politics today, global warming stands out as an issue where little common ground exists between the two parties. This is perhaps best illustrated by the contrast in attitudes between Obama, who has described global warming as the greatest threat to future generations, and Trump, who has called it "a hoax."

Although there are different levels of concern about the issue by age, gender, income and race, all are much smaller than those based on political party preference. With Trump already taking steps to undo the Obama administration's actions against global warming, it seems unlikely that the divide between the parties will narrow any time soon.

Historical data for these questions are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 1-5, 2017, with a random sample of 1,018 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total samples of Republicans, Democrats and independents, the margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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