This article is part of our America's Issues series.
The last few weeks have been tumultuous for the issues of climate change and immigration. Record-setting summer temperatures, historic floods and devastating hurricanes have raised the stakes for the climate-change provisions contained within the Inflation Reduction Act. Meanwhile, Republican governors in Florida and Texas have attracted media attention for paying to transport migrants and asylum seekers to liberal areas of the country.
These two issues aren’t obviously linked, but they have one major commonality: They rank among the most partisan in the United States. Those on the left care a great deal about climate change, while those on the right are more likely to identify immigration and border security as an important issue.
In light of recent developments in both these areas, we decided to focus the fifth wave of our FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll on climate change and immigration. Using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, we’ve been asking the same group of about 2,000 Americans what they feel are the country’s most important issues. In our latest poll, “inflation or increasing costs,” “crime or gun violence” and “political extremism or polarization” continued to appear on Americans’ list of most important issues, as they’ve ranked among the top three in each wave of our survey since we began polling in late April. But climate change (20 percent) and immigration (19 percent) were next in our most recent wave, as the chart below shows.1
Few issues had a wider partisan split than climate change or immigration. Overall, 36 percent of Democrats and just 5 percent of Republicans ranked climate change as a top issue facing the country. Conversely, 38 percent of Republicans and 6 percent of Democrats cited immigration as a top concern. This split has appeared consistently across all five waves: In each, 21 percent to 36 percent of Democrats have named climate change as a top issue, and 32 percent to 38 percent of Republicans have said the same of immigration.
When it comes to climate change, Americans are divided by party on more than simply its importance. When asked how much of climate change is caused by humans, 88 percent of Democrats and just 35 percent of Republicans said that it was “entirely” or “mostly” caused by humans, with independents between the two at 65 percent.2 When asked whether the U.S. should pass regulations related to climate change that were “more strict,” “less strict” or “about as strict as they are today,” 76 percent of Democrats, 43 percent of independents and only 17 percent of Republicans wanted stricter regulations.3
And when asked to choose between two approaches to dealing with climate change, 89 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents supported prioritizing changes today that would reduce the effects of climate change before they happen, while 57 percent of Republicans preferred adjusting to climate change as it’s happening to minimize disruptions to daily life. Willie Yelverton, a 50-year-old Black man from Pennsylvania who identified as a Democrat, told us that even seemingly mundane changes would be important to reducing the impact of climate change. “[The government will] need to institute standard issue tax breaks for reusable materials,” he said. “There’ll have to be bans on goods that don’t have a path to be recycled and or reused going forward. Those are small line items, but it’s a very tough pill to swallow.”
However, we did find more agreement across party lines when it came to legislative action to address climate change. We asked Americans whether they supported three climate-change measures included in the Inflation Reduction Act, which became law last month (we asked this without referring to the Inflation Reduction Act by name). As the chart below indicates, Americans across the political spectrum were at least somewhat receptive to them.4
Overall, more than 60 percent backed each of the three proposals, which included an increased emphasis on developing and using alternative energy sources, increased government regulation on corporations’ carbon emissions and giving tax credits to corporations that reduce carbon emissions. This included a majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents, too, save for increasing government regulation of business’ carbon emissions — although a plurality of Republicans still backed this idea (47 percent). Despite decently strong support for these proposals, Americans were largely unfamiliar with the Inflation Reduction Act, with only 38 percent stating that they were “very” or “somewhat” familiar with it.5
We also found that, regardless of party, a respondent’s concern about climate change related to whether he or she had experienced unusual climate events. Republicans displayed a striking worry gap based on experience: Forty-six percent of those who had encountered extreme weather in the past five years said they were worried about climate change, compared with just 17 percent who hadn’t (a gap 8 percentage points larger than the one seen among Democrats, who already had a majority of respondents express worry about climate change independent of their experiences).6 A 61-year-old man from Florida who identified as a person of color and a Republican said he had recently experienced an extreme weather event, noting particular concern over “the obvious destruction of natural resources due to excessive heat, diminished water reserves and unusual number of heat domes impacting climate across multiple continents.”
With the media spotlight hovering over immigration, partisan divides toward immigration should also come as little surprise. When we asked if rules surrounding legal immigration should become “more strict,” “less strict” or “remain about the same,” a plurality of Republicans (43 percent) preferred stricter rules, while 36 percent preferred the status quo, and 12 percent backed looser regulations (the remainder didn’t know or skipped the question). By comparison, only 11 percent of Democrats favored more restrictive rules, with 73 percent split evenly between wanting things to remain about the same or become less strict.
Meanwhile, Republicans were more unified on the issue of illegal immigration, as 78 percent said they wanted stricter rules toward those entering the country without proper authorization, compared to just 24 percent of Democrats who said the same. Michael Ritchie, a 27-year-old white man from Texas who identified as a conservative-libertarian independent, told us he wanted the government to incentivize legal immigration and disincentivize immigrants entering the country without legal permission. “I don't think there can ever be enough boots on the ground, per se, to completely secure the border,” he said. “But creating new policies or revamping immigration policies that would keep people from coming here simply for free rides or anything like that, but also make it easier for people to come here legally.”
That aligns with another finding in our poll: Among the 1 in 5 respondents who named immigration as a top issue facing the country, 95 percent said undocumented immigration was a bigger issue for the country, compared with just 1 percent who said legal immigration. “The federal government abandoned its duty to protect our borders. The flow of immigration outside the proper process is a symptom that anything can cross it without control,” said a 41-year-old Hispanic man from New York who identified as Republican.
And unlike the policy ideas to tackle climate change, Americans were more split on the best ways to address immigration concerns. When we asked whether respondents supported or opposed five immigration-related proposals, the only one that received majority support was the U.S. accepting more refugees from Ukraine.
But as we’ve seen in other polls, Americans view refugees differently based on where they’re from, as only 45 percent overall wanted to accept more refugees from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Republicans were far and away most supportive of expanding the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico (80 percent) and further restricting the number of visas given out (62 percent), while solid majorities of Democrats opposed these ideas (75 percent and 60 percent, respectively). Outside of supporting an increase in Ukrainian refugees and opposing the building of a border wall between the U.S. and Canada, independents were split pretty evenly on these proposals.
Of course, it’s not as if these issues stand apart from each other. A 24-year-old multiracial woman from California who identified as a Democrat said, “[Climate change] will have such a large impact on America’s future, yet it’s turned into a ‘political issue’ with so much disinformation being spread. People are refusing to make the changes necessary to reverse climate change because of politicians who tell them lies.” Others tied immigration to issues such as health care. “Illegal immigration is a burden on the health care, judicial, education, etc. systems in the U.S. Even legal immigration hurts the U.S. with overpopulation,” said a 63-year-old white man from New York who identified as a Republican.
And how these issues motivate or persuade voters to back one party or the other will be of vital importance when voters go to the polls in November. With fewer than six weeks until the midterms, 46 percent of respondents told us they were certain or almost certain to vote, up from 42 percent back in the first wave in the spring. And among those likely voters, Democrats and Republicans are about evenly split on the generic ballot, with 41 percent saying that they plan to vote for a Democrat and 40 percent planning to vote for a Republican (which is within the margin of error). Still, 17 percent of likely voters told us they intended to vote for a third-party option or didn't know how they planned to vote.
Based on their highly partisan nature in today’s political environment, climate change and immigration may not immediately jump out as issues that help undecided voters make up their minds. But we’ll get a firmer answer to this question next month, when we take a closer look at which issues voters are thinking about the most when they cast their ballots.
Art direction by Dan Dao. Copy editing by Maya Sweedler. Story editing by Santul Nerkar.