Political party affiliation is often considered a part of someone’s identity.
“I don’t really agree with the politics of either party 100%,” independent Marcie Mason said.
“I think it’s for me a party that cares about people and the environment and those are things that are very important to me,” Democrat Karen Dike said.
“I think the Republican Party is the political party that is most in-tune with the Constitution, with the founding fathers of our country, with the idea of limited government,” Republican Jimmy Sengenberger said.
In a time of large political divide, we actually have more in common than we realize. Believe it or not, climate change is a topic more and more people all over the political spectrum are agreeing on. In fact, there’s data out there to prove it.
Leaf Van Boven is a professor of psychology at the University of Colorado. He researches how people think about the world.
“Over the years, we have been very interested in how people perceive sharp divisions between Democrats and Republicans that don’t really exist,” Boven said.
Both in 2014 and 2016, Professor Boven conducted a political opinion climate change study .
“What we did is very simply ask a national representative sample of Democrats, Republicans and independents to just tell how much they believed in climate change, how much they believe it’s caused by humans, threatens humans, and that human action could actually mitigate climate change.”
What he found is that a majority of Democrats, independents and Republicans all believed climate change is real. To be more specific, Boven’s study found 66% of Republicans, 74% of independents, and 90% of Democrats said they believed in human-caused climate change and the value of reducing greenhouse gases.
Similar trends have been seen in other national studies as well. This graph (page 7) from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication shows percentages of registered voters who think global warming is happening. Looking from November of 2008 to November of 2019, you’ll notice an upward trend in all groups of Democrats and Republicans, with the exception of conservative Republicans.
This map – also from YPCCC – shows that in 2018, the national average of registered Republicans who think global warming is happening was 52% and Democrats 91%.
One key difference between the YPCCC studies and Boven’s is that Boven included all people, and not just registered voters. That’s why he suspects his percentage for Republicans may be higher because it included younger conservatives who aren’t registered to vote.
“The younger conservatives are much more likely to believe in climate change, and they’re much more likely to talk to their family members who are also likely to be conservatives,” Boven said.
Republican Jimmy Sengenberger says while climate change may not be a priority for the Republican Party, he’s personally noticed an increasing number of Republicans caring about the issue.
“It’s more among the younger crop of Republicans, but I think that when I talk to a lot of older folks on the Republican side, they’re also recognizing that it’s an issue that conservatives and Republicans cannot and should not just ignore,” Sengenberger said.
So, where did this misconception about climate come from? And why have people considered it a highly-politized issue? Boven says it’s hard to know for sure, but he believes it’s likely come from political leaders.
“And so, we had this environment where Democratic and Republican leaders became very divided in their discourse on climate change, and that caused ordinary Democrats and Republicans to believe there was this sharp division between other ordinary Democrats and Republicans,” Boven said.
In actuality, Boven says he’s found most people don’t want such a large divide between parties.
“Most Americans, they value bipartisanship. They value thinking open mindedly about ideas from the other side.”
The independent, Democrat and Republican in this story all agree it’s important to take care of our planet and the people on it.
“My personal philosophy is that the earth and the environment are a gift to us, and that we’re charged to take care of it,” independent Mason said.
“When I look at my youngest granddaughter, my heart just aches because I don’t know what’s in her future,” Democrat Dike said.
“I don’t think there’s any American that wants to destroy the environment or destroy the world climate. We’re all together in the idea that we should protect the environment. It’s more how you go about it I think than anything else,” Republican Sengenberger said.
“I would say that climate change has become a bipartisan issue, yes. Now whether solutions to climate change will become bipartisan, that may be a more difficult question,” Boven said.