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Leading up to Earth Day and President Biden’s first Climate Summit on April 22, Gallup is releasing a series of environmental polls, and the latest has found that the opinion gap on climate change between Democrats and Republicans is only growing wider. Only 29% of Republicans believe that the effects of climate change are already in motion and overall public attitudes toward climate change haven’t increased much since 2016. This stagnation leaves experts wondering: with the country so divided, how will we begin now to contain the climate disaster just over the horizon? Interestingly, 88% of ALL Americans believe global warming will eventually affect humans — including large majorities of Republicans (74%) and independents (89%).
Why This Matters: We’ve reported often on climate misinformation in the media, and this situation is no exception. Most individuals obtain information about global warming from news media, but studies have shown that climate coverage is virtually nonexistent in mainstream television news. In 2020, nightly and Sunday morning news shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox aired only 112 minutes of climate coverage and much of that coverage failed to mention links to public health or equity. The result? Americans aren’t equipped with the facts, impairing the public’s ability to understand, advocate for, and participate in climate action.
By the Numbers
Perhaps the most disheartening result of the poll found that only 29% of Republicans believe that the effects of climate change “have already begun to happen,” down from 42% in 2008. 82% of Democrats, on the other hand, believe that the impacts of climate change are already in motion. Experts at Gallup trace this major divergence back to the anti-regulation rhetoric of the Reagan era and the rise of far-right pundits like Rush Limbaugh in the 1990s and again in the 2010s.
Potentially due to American news media’s perhaps overly “balanced” climate coverage that places climate denialists on equal platforms as scientists, the number of Republicans that believe climate change is man-made has actually decreased by 20% since the early 2000s. Now, only 32% of Republicans believe that global warming is caused primarily by human activity compared to 88% of Democrats.
Additionally, Republicans still don’t see global warming as an imminent threat, even as President Biden makes it his top priority aside from the pandemic. Two-thirds of Democrats believe that climate change presents a direct threat to themselves and their way of life but only 11% of Republicans feel the same.
What Does It All Mean?
Americans across the board are extremely divided on climate change even as governments across the world make pledges and develop plans. Despite nearly 9 in 10 Americans believing that they will see the impacts of global warming in their lifetimes, 36% still oppose reducing fossil fuel use. American media barely covers this global threat and experts worry that the continuously diverging opinions between parties will threaten the nation’s climate goals. Lydia Saad, a Senior Editor at Gallup, explains, “in pursuing new legislation to deal with climate change, the challenge for the Biden administration will be persuading enough Republican senators to support action to avoid a filibuster. That could be a tough sell since Republicans signing on to such legislation are likely to face blowback from the Republican base.”
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