Climate change has received relatively scant attention throughout the presidential campaign, and the topic never came up during Sunday night’s second presidential debate in St. Louis.
Republican nominee Donald Trump once dismissed global warming as a “hoax invented by the Chinese” to try to undermine U.S. manufacturing and has promised to pull back the U.S. from an international agreement aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists largely blame for climate change. Democrat Hillary Clinton, by contrast, takes climate change seriously and has vowed to crack down on coal-fired power plants that emit the gases and set as a goal producing a third of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2027.
While the subject has been overshadowed by controversies over terrorism, taxes, Clinton’s mishandling of sensitive email and Trump’s crude sexual comments caught on videotape, a new study by the Pew Research Center concludes that climate change is arguably one of the hottest and most divisive issues out there.
Democratic supporters of Clinton are far more likely than Trump’s GOP backers to be concerned about the adverse effects of climate change, to believe that climate change is largely the result of human activity, and insist that a broad range of policy and individual initiatives could make a difference in slowing the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions, the study found.
Some 56 percent of Clinton supporters say they “care a great deal about the issue of global climate change” while another 34 percent say they care somewhat about the issue – for a total of 90 percent. By comparison, just 15 percent of Trump supporters say they care a great deal about global climate change, while another 34 percent say they “care some” – for a total of 49 percent.
“These differences starkly frame a key set of disputes in the presidential election,” according to the report.
What’s more, Clinton and Trump's supporters are deeply divided in beliefs about climate change, especially on the question of whether it is mostly due to industrial emissions and other human activities or whether it stems from natural patterns and changes. Among all registered voters, fully half believe climate change is due to human activity, 29 percent believe it the result of natural patterns and 20 percent say there is no solid evidence one way or another.
Fully 70 percent of Clinton supporters blame climate change on human activity while only 17 percent say it has to do with historic natural trends. And among Trump supporters, only 22 percent say climate change stems from human activity and 47 percent blame it on nature.
“The biggest gaps on climate policy and climate science are between those at the ends of the political spectrum,” wrote Cary Funk and Brian Kennedy, the chief authors of the new report. “Across the board, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans see climate-related matters through vastly different lenses.”
The Pew survey was conducted May 10 through June 6 and involved interviews with 1,534 randomly selected Americans
The study also found big differences between Clinton and Trump supporters in how they perceive the effects of actions to address climate change, which many scientists have blamed for severe weather conditions including droughts and floods, rising sea levels and vanishing coast lines and polar ice caps.
Sixty-six percent of Clinton supporters believe that restricting power plant emissions could make a big difference in combating global warming, compared to only 39 percent of Trump supporters who believe that. Similarly, 66 percent of Clinton supporters believe that international agreements on carbon emissions, such as the one that the U.S. and nearly 200 other countries negotiated in Paris late last year, can be effective. By contrast, only 34 percent of Trump supporters agree with that assumption.
Trump supporters by wide margins are far more skeptical about the findings of climate scientists than Clinton supporters. More than half of Clinton’s backers believe that climate scientists “very well” understand whether climate change is occurring, compared to just 17 percent of Trump supporters who believe that.