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Democrats — And Republicans — Are Growing More Worried Over Climate Change

Last year was the hottest on record, and NASA has declared this past February the most unusually warm month since it began keeping records. People appear to be noticing.

Two polls conducted in March suggest that Americans are more concerned about climate change than they have been in nearly a decade, and one of them shows that concern is increasing among Democrats, Republicans and independents. But that doesn’t mean global warming has suddenly become a bipartisan issue — the politics of it are still very different for each side.

A Gallup poll of 1,019 adults across 50 states and the District of Columbia found that concern about global warming has increased over the past few years. When asked how concerned they were about a list of environmental problems, 64 percent of respondents reported feeling a “great deal” or “fair amount” of worry about global warming, up 9 percentage points from last year.

2014 2015 2016
Not at all 24% 24% 19%
Only a little 19 21 17
A fair amount 22 23 27
A great deal 34 32 37
“How much do you personally worry about climate change?”

Source: Gallup

Gallup also found that concern for global warming rose across the political spectrum. As you might expect, Democrats continue to worry — 84 percent reported concern, up from 78 percent a year ago. But Republicans and independents are getting anxious too. Both groups posted 9 percentage point increases in the number of people expressing a “great deal” or “fair amount” of worry about global warming.

Republicans 31% 40% +9
Democrats 78 84 +6
Independents 55 64 +9
Those who are worried a ”great deal/fair amount“ about global warming, by party

Source: Gallup

But bipartisan worry about global warming might not shape the election. A poll of 1,004 registered voters released this week by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that 65 percent of Democrats say they’re likelier to vote for a presidential candidate who supports action on climate, while only 21 percent of Republicans said the same. Those responses track with each party’s front-runner for the presidential nomination — Democrat Hillary Clinton recently said that she’s “not interested in endorsements from people who deny climate science,” and Republican Donald Trump told the Washington Post in March that he is “not a big believer in man-made climate change.”

Republicans 21% 27%
Democrats 65 4
Independents 33 18
How likely would you be to vote for a candidate who supports taking action on climate?

Sources: Yale, George Mason

It’s not that voters don’t think climate change is happening, it’s that they have different opinions about whether politicians should do anything about it. As Yale law professor Dan Kahan has argued, what you believe about climate change doesn’t reflect what you know; it expresses who you are. One takeaway from these polls is that climate change is still an issue that defines the parties and differentiates them from each other. Climate politics have become identity politics.

Christie Aschwanden was a lead science writer for FiveThirtyEight. Her book “Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery” is available here.