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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Climate Concerns Increase; Most Republicans Now Acknowledge Change

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Americans support government action but few see that as likely

West Long Branch, NJ – An increasing number of Americans believe climate change is occurring, including a majority who now see this issue as a very serious problem, according to the latest Monmouth University Poll. Most Americans are optimistic that there is still time to prevent the worst effects of climate change and support taking action, but they are not confident in the government’s ability or willingness to do something about it.  A clear majority of Republicans currently acknowledge that climate change is happening – which marks a shift in opinion from three years ago – but there continues be a wide partisan gap in how serious the problem is and what should be done about it.

Nearly 8-in-10 Americans (78%) believe the world’s climate is undergoing a change that is causing more extreme weather patterns and sea level rise, up from 70% in December 2015. Of note, nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) now believe in climate change, a 15 point jump from just under half (49%) three years ago. However, belief in climate change continues to be higher among Democrats (92%, up from 85% in 2015) and independents (78%, up from 74%).  The poll was conducted before last week’s release of the federal government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment and President Donald Trump’s remarks this week questioning the report.

“The president has cast doubt on the existence of climate change even though a majority of his fellow Republicans now acknowledge it as a reality. Of course, the poll was conducted earlier this month, so it is entirely possible that some of his supporters have changed their minds again now that Trump has weighed in. That’s just the nature of American public opinion today,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

A majority of Americans (54%) currently say that climate change is a very serious problem, which is up significantly from 41% in Monmouth’s 2015 poll. Another 17% say climate change is a somewhat serious problem and 7% say it is not too serious. The remainder say climate change is not happening (16%) or don’t know if it is happening (5%).

Although the vast majority of Americans believe climate change is occurring, there continues to be a significant partisan divide about the seriousness of the problem. More than 8-in-10 Democrats (82%) say climate change is a very serious problem, an increase of 19 percentage points from 63% in 2015. Half of independents (51%, up from 42%) say climate change is a very serious problem and only a quarter of Republicans (25%, up from 18%) feel the same.

Belief in climate change is nearly the same among Americans who live in coastal states (79%) and those who live in inland states (77%). However, coastal state residents (61%) are more likely than inland state residents (44%) to see climate change as a very serious problem. This gap is wider than it was three years ago, when 44% of coastal state residents and 38% of inland state residents said climate change was a very serious problem.

Public opinion is split on the cause of climate change. A plurality of Americans (37%) say human activity and natural changes in the environment are equally to blame. Three-in-ten (29%) say human activity is more to blame and 10% say natural changes in the environment are the larger cause. These results are similar to the Monmouth poll taken three years ago. Democrats (45%) continue to be more likely than independents (29%) and Republicans (13%) to say climate change is caused mainly by human activity.

Regardless of the cause, a majority of Americans (54%) say there is still time to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Another 16% say it is too late to act and 4% volunteer that there is nothing we can or should do about it. The remainder are unsure if there is still time to prevent the worst effects or do not believe climate change is happening.  Among the just over half who say there is still time, 31% of that group feel we have to act in the next year or two to prevent the worst effects of climate change, 46% say we need to act in the next 10 to 15 years, and 17% say we have more time than that to act.

“Scientists have long agreed that climate change is a very serious problem, and it is past time to take action. Now it is clear that a majority of Americans regardless of political party agree,” said Tony MacDonald, director of the Urban Coast Institute at Monmouth University and a co-author of the new federal climate report’s chapter on the U.S. Northeast region.

Most Americans (69%) support the government doing more to reduce the type of activities that cause climate change and sea level rise, while just 22% oppose it. Support for government action is slightly higher than in 2015 when 64% were in favor and 26% were opposed. There are predictable partisan differences, with 85% of Democrats, 70% of independents, and 51% of Republicans supporting government action. These partisan results were similar in 2015 when 77% of Democrats, 66% of independents, and 47% of Republicans supported government action.

Although most Americans support Washington doing more about climate change, they have little confidence in the government’s ability to do so. Slightly over half of Americans are either not too (26%) or not at all (31%) confident in the government’s ability to reduce these activities. Another 31% are somewhat confident and only 8% are very confident. This lack of confidence is one area that produces bipartisan agreement. The majority of Republicans (55%), Democrats (55%), and independents (61%) are not too or not at all confident.

Americans are also not betting that Congress will take action on climate change in the next few years. A little over half say it is not too (30%) or not at all (24%) likely that Congress will act soon, while four-in-ten say it is somewhat (34%) or very (8%) likely. Majorities of Democrats (56%), Republicans (55%), and independents (53%) do not think it is likely that Congress will act in the next few years.

“House Democrats have pledged that they will take on climate change in the new Congress. This issue is being pushed hard by the party’s newly elected class of representatives which reflects the fact that this topic is a particular concern among younger Americans,” said Murray, the poll director.

The poll finds significant differences in climate change opinions based on age. Two-thirds (67%) of Americans who are 18 to 34 years old see climate change as a very serious problem compared to half (51%) of those age 35 to 54 and just under half (46%) of Americans age 55 and older. Younger Americans are also more optimistic about preventing the worst effects of climate change, with 62% saying there is still time to do this, compared to 51% of those age 35 to 54 and 49% of those age 55 and older. Americans in the 18 to 34 age bracket are more likely to support government action on climate change (82%) than Americans in the 35 to 54 age bracket (66%) and those 55 and older (61%).

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from November 9 to 12, 2018 with 802 adults in the United States.  This time period coincided with the recent California wildfires, but was before the federal government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment was released.  The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

Carolyn Lau contributed to the analysis in this report.

 

QUESTIONS AND RESULTS     

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

 

[Q1-30 previously released.]

 

  1. Do you think that the world’s climate is undergoing a change that is causing more extreme weather patterns and the rise of sea levels, or is this not happening?
TREND: Nov.
2018
Dec.
2015
Yes, is happening 78% 70%
No, is not happening 16% 22%
(VOL) Don’t know 5% 8%
(n) (802) (1,006)

 

  1. Would you say this is a very serious, somewhat serious, or not too serious problem?
TREND: Nov.
2018
Dec.
2015
Very serious 54% 41%
Somewhat serious 17% 19%
Not too serious 7% 9%
(VOL) Don’t know 0% 1%
Climate change is not happening (from Q31) 16% 22%
Not sure climate change happening (from Q31) 5% 8%
(n) (802) (1,006)

 

  1. Is climate change caused more by human activity, more by natural changes in the environment, or by both equally?
TREND: Nov.
2018
Dec.
2015
Human activity 29% 27%
Natural changes in the environment 10% 8%
Both equally 37% 34%
(VOL) Don’t know 2% 1%
Climate change is not happening (from Q31) 16% 22%
Not sure climate change happening (from Q31) 5% 8%
(n) (802) (1,006)

 

  1. Do you think there is still time to prevent the worst effects of climate change or is it already too late?
Nov.
2018
Still time 54%
Too late 16%
(VOL) Nothing we can/should do 4%
(VOL) Don’t know 5%
Climate change is not happening (from Q31) 16%
Not sure climate change happening (from Q31) 5%
(n) (802)

 

[The following question was asked only of those who said “STILL TIME” to Q34; n=424, moe=+/-4.8%.] 

34A.  How much time do we have to act before it becomes too late – within the next year or two, within the next 10 to 15 years, or do we have more time than that?

Nov.
2018
Within the next year or two 31%
Within the next 10 to 15 years 46%
More time than that 17%
(VOL) Don’t know 6%
(n) (424)

 

  1. In general, do you support or oppose the U.S. government doing more to reduce the type of activities that cause climate change and sea level rise?
TREND: Nov.
2018
Dec.
2015
Support 69% 64%
Oppose 22% 26%
(VOL) Depends 4% 4%
(VOL) Don’t know 5% 7%
(n) (802) (1,006)

 

  1. How confident are you in the government’s ability to reduce the type of activities that cause climate change and sea level rise – very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident, or not at all confident?
Nov.
2018
Very confident 8%
Somewhat confident 31%
Not too confident 26%
Not at all confident 31%
(VOL) Don’t know 3%
(n) (802)

 

  1. How likely do you think it is that Congress will take action on climate change in the next few years – very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, not at all likely?
Nov.
2018
Very likely 8%
Somewhat likely 34%
Not too likely 30%
Not at all likely 24%
(VOL) Don’t know 3%
(n) (802)

 

[Q38-42 held for future release.]

 

METHODOLOGY

The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from November 9 to 12, 2018 with a national random sample of 802 adults age 18 and older, in English. This includes 398 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 404 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone. Telephone numbers were selected through random digit dialing and landline respondents were selected with a modified Troldahl-Carter youngest adult household screen. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. Final sample is weighted for region, age, education, gender and race based on US Census information. Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and SSI (RDD sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design).  Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

 

DEMOGRAPHICS (weighted)

Self-Reported

28% Republican
38% Independent
34% Democrat
 
49% Male
51% Female
 
31% 18-34
34% 35-54
36% 55+
 
64% White
12% Black
16% Hispanic

  8% Asian/Other

 
68% No degree
32% 4 year degree
  

 

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.

 

Download this Poll Report with all tables

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