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Survey finds trust in climate scientists low among U.S. Republicans, much higher among liberal Democrats

Thursday, October 6, 2016 7:45
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Desdemona Despair

A Pew Research Center survey finds that trust in climate scientists is low among U.S. Republicans and considerably higher among liberal Democrats, 4 October 2016. Graphic: Pew Research Center

By Cary Funk and Brian Kennedy
4 October 2016

(Pew Research Center) – Political fissures on climate issues extend far beyond beliefs about whether climate change is occurring and whether humans are playing a role, according to a new, in-depth survey by Pew Research Center. These divisions reach across every dimension of the climate debate, down to people’s basic trust in the motivations that drive climate scientists to conduct their research.

Specifically, the survey finds wide political divides in views of the potential for devastation to the Earth’s ecosystems and what might be done to address any climate impacts. There are also major divides in the way partisans interpret the current scientific discussion over climate, with the political left and right having vastly divergent perceptions of modern scientific consensus, differing levels of trust in the information they get from professional researchers, and different views as to whether it is the quest for knowledge or the quest for professional advancement that drives climate scientists in their work.

At the same time, political differences are not the exclusive drivers of people’s views about climate issues. People’s level of concern about the issue also matters. The 36% of Americans who are more personally concerned about the issue of global climate change, whether they are Republican or Democrat, are much more likely to see climate science as settled, to believe that humans are playing a role in causing the Earth to warm, and to put great faith in climate scientists.

When it comes to party divides, the biggest gaps on climate policy and climate science are between those at the ends of the political spectrum. Across the board, from possible causes to who should be the one to sort this all out, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans see climate-related matters through vastly different lenses. Liberal Democrats place more faith in the work of climate scientists (55% say climate research reflects the best available evidence most of the time) and their understanding of the phenomenon (68% say climate scientists understand very well whether or not climate change is occurring). Perhaps it follows, then, that liberal Democrats are much more inclined to believe a wide variety of environmental catastrophes are potentially headed our way, and that both policy and individual actions can be effective in heading some of these off. Even the Republicans who believe the Earth is warming are much less likely than Democrats to expect severe harms to the Earth’s ecosystem and to believe that any of six individual and policy actions asked about can make a big difference in addressing climate change. And, a majority of conservative Republicans believe that each of the six actions to address climate change can make no more than a small difference.

This survey extensively explores how peoples’ divergent views over climate issues tie with people’s views about climate scientists and their work. Democrats are especially likely to see scientists and their research in a positive light. Republicans are considerably more skeptical of climate scientists’ information, understanding and research findings on climate matters. A few examples:

  • Seven-in-ten liberal Democrats (70%) trust climate scientists’ a lot to give full and accurate information about the causes of climate change, compared with just 15% of conservative Republicans.
  • Some 54% of liberal Democrats say climate scientists’ understand the causes of climate change very well. This compares with only 11% among conservative Republicans and 19% among moderate/liberal Republicans.
  • Liberal Democrats, more than any other party/ideology group, perceive widespread consensus among climate scientists’ about the causes of warming. Only 16% of conservative Republicans say almost all scientists agree on this, compared with 55% of liberal Democrats.
  • The credibility of climate research is also closely tied with Americans’ political views. Some 55% of liberal Democrats say climate research reflects the best available evidence most of the time, 39% say some of the time. By contrast, 9% of conservative Republicans say this occurs most of the time, 54% say it occurs some of the time.
  • On the flip side, conservative Republicans are more inclined to say climate research findings are influenced by scientists’ desire to advance their careers (57%) or their own political leanings (54%) most of the time. Small minorities of liberal Democrats say either influence occurs most of the time (16% and 11%, respectively). [more]

The Politics of Climate

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