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Climate change

New UMD-Washington Post Poll Sheds Light on Public Perceptions of Climate Change

From its role in extreme weather events to their optimism about potential solutions, Americans weigh in

Annapolis, Maryland obscured by pink smoggy haze from Canadian fires

A summer marked by wildfires, smoke, high heat and extreme weather isn’t enough to bridge the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans on climate change, a new University of Maryland poll with The Washington Post finds. 

When asked to look back on the last five years, nearly three-quarters of the poll’s adult respondents said that their area has experienced extremely hot days. Roughly 4 in 10 said that their area experienced severe storms, flooding, droughts and water shortages, or smoke from wildfires. Almost another third said that their area has experienced wildfires firsthand.

Still, a large number of Americans do not believe that climate change is a major contributor to these recent phenomena. Among those who said their area has experienced each of these extreme weather events, between 50% and 63% said climate change was a major contributing factor to them.

Partisan differences are stark. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were 23 percentage points more likely to report experiencing extremely hot days than Republicans and Republican leaners, and 21 points more likely to report experiencing severe storms such as hurricanes. In a separate question, Democrats and leaners were also 50 percentage points more likely to say climate change was a major factor in extremely hot days, 49 more points more likely to say climate change was a major factor in severe storms, and 47 points more likely to say the same for droughts and wildfires.

Among the Republicans who reported experiencing all kinds of extreme weather events in their area in the last five years, between 21%-31% percent said climate change is “not a factor” at all.

“It is hard to be surprised by partisan differences these days. But the partisan gaps, even among those who have experienced extreme weather in their area, are staggering,” said Michael Hanmer, a professor of Government and Politics and director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, which co-sponsored the poll. “With partisan differences this massive on the severity and causes of extreme weather events it is hard to be optimistic about the ability of our elected leaders to work together to identify policy solutions.”

The poll also found that 57% of Americans disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of climate change—and that a still greater majority (71%) have only heard a little or nothing at all about the president’s Inflation Reduction Act, which provides Americans with multiple climate-friendly incentives like tax credits for installing solar panels, manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines, buying heat pumps, and driving electric vehicles. (Although, when asked about different aspects of the Inflation Reduction Act, there was more knowledge about some items in the legislation.)

To differing degrees, majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree that human activity is causing climate change (55% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents versus 93% of Democrats and leaners). Majorities of both are pessimistic about the future: 73% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans are not confident that the world will do enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

“What I think is really interesting in these data, in general, is that there is a tension between lots of us believing in and experiencing the effects of climate change, and who is supposed to deal with it,” said Deb Niemeir, poll collaborator, director of UMD’s Center for Disaster Resilience and Clark Distinguished Chair. “At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter if you believe in climate change or not, we are all going to have to deal with the effects of it.”

This poll was conducted by The Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement July 13-23. The sample of 1,404 U.S. adults was drawn from the NORC AmeriSpeak Panel, an ongoing survey panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Photo of Annapolis, Maryland obscured by pink smoggy haze from Canadian fires is by Alex Potemkin, provided by iStock.

Original news story posted by College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

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