PARTISAN VIEWS

On many policy issues, Democrats and Republicans differ sharply from each other. When PPRG’s survey series began in 1997, just before Bill Clinton and Al Gore hosted the White House Conference on Climate Change, the partisan gap on many aspects of global warming was small. Over the years since then, however, the partisan gap has grown.

The graphs below track opinions on various issues related to global warming among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. They document the growth of the partisan gap and illustrate how it differs across issues.

To set the stage for these findings, we illustrate the percent of respondents in our surveys who identified themselves as Democrats, Independents, and Republicans (see the following graph).


Question wording can be found here.
 
 
OVERVIEW
 

In our  surveys conducted since 1997, PPRG has asked different questions across different surveys. 

Because of this, in order to document trends over time in the partisan gap, there is a tradeoff where we can either describe more years using fewer questions, or fewer years using more questions. We describe results using two different approaches, which end up supporting similar conclusions.

The first graph below shows the average partisan gap on two opinions that were measured in all of our surveys: whether global warming has been happening, and whether, if warming has been happening, it has been caused at least partly by human activity. The partisan gap, which was only 8 percentage points on average in 1997 and 1998, peaked at 30 percentage points in 2011 and stabilized between 24 and 29 percentage points from 2012 to 2020. In 2020, this gap was 26 percentage points, on par with the past eight years. These data refute the claim that the gap has grown in recent years amid an increasingly polarized political system in the United States. 


The second graph shows the partisan gap using seven measures included in 10 surveys: (1) that global warming has been happening, (2) that, if warming has been happening, it was caused at least in part by human activity, (3) that policy should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by power plants, (4) that CAFE standards should be increased (standards about the fuel efficiency of cars), (5) that energy efficiency of buildings should be increased, (6) that energy efficiency of appliances should be increased, and (7) that climate scientists are trustworthy.

Using those measures, the partisan gap was 9 and 11 percentage points on average in 1997 and 1998, grew to 15 to 31 percentage points during 2007-2013, and stabilized between 22 and 29 percentage points in 2012-2020. In 2020, the gap was 29 percentage points, slightly greater than the previous years of 2018 (22%) and 2015 (23%). 


 
 
FUNDAMENTALS

Next, we describe the magnitude of and trends in the partisan gap for individual opinions over the years.

Since 1997, majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have believed that the earth has probably been warming over the last 100 years (see the figure below). In 2020, 94% of Democrats, 78% of Independents, and 67% of Republicans believed that global warming has been happening. The partisan gap grew from 9 percentage points in 1997 to 27 percentage points in 2020.

But the gap has not grown steadily over those years. 2010 marked a point of notable growth from 15 percentage points the year before to 28 percentage points. There has been no notable growth in the gap during the last 8 years.


Question wording can be found here.

Since 1997, majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have believed that, if the world’s temperature has increased over the past 100 years, that warming has been caused at least partly by humans (see the figure below). In 2020, 94% of Democrats reported belief that increases in global temperature were caused mostly or partly by human activities—the highest level of consensus for Democrats since this survey began. Independents and Republicans also report high levels in 2020, although not record highs: 80% of Independents, and 69% of Republicans believed that global warming was attributable to human activities.


Question wording can be found here.

Since 1997, majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have believed that the earth will probably be warmer 100 years from now if nothing is done to prevent it (see the figure below). In 2020, 94% of Democrats, 72% of Independents, and 56% of Republicans believed that warming will probably continue in the future. No notable growth has occurred in the partisan gap since 2011.


Question wording can be found here.

Whereas majorities of Democrats and Independents have consistently believed that 5-degrees Fahrenheit of global warming would be bad, the proportion of Republicans expressing that belief has hovered around the midline, peaking at 59% when this survey began in 1997, and dipping to its lowest points of 47% in 2010 and 2015 (see the figure below). The partisan gap in 2020 is the biggest observed since 1997 at 34 percentage points.


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have consistently believed that global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem for the U.S. in the future. In 2020, nearly all Democrats surveyed (98%) report that global warming will be a serious problem for the US, while 54% of Republicans, and 79% of Independents believe the same. While a slight majority of Republicans believe it will be a very or somewhat serious problem for the US, the near unanimous Democratic response to this question creates a record partisan gap of 44 percentage points in 2020, a notable increase from 2018 (35%).


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have consistently believed that global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem for the world in the future. In 2020, 97% of Democrats, 60% of Republicans, and 81% of Independents shared this view. The partisan gap was 37 percentage points in 2020, about the same as in 2009.


Question wording can be found here.

GOVERNMENT ACTION

Since 1997, majorities of Democrats and Independents have consistently believed that the federal government should do more about global warming. In 2020, 92% of Democrats and 64% of Independents favored more federal action. Minorities of Republicans have favored increased government action (38% in 2020). The partisan gap was 54 percentage points in 2020.


Question wording can be found here.

Since 1997, majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have believed governments in other countries should do more about global warming (see figure below). In 2020, 87% of Democrats, 54% of Republicans, and 67% of Independents believed this, with a partisan gap of 33 percentage points.


Question wording can be found here.

Since 1997, majorities of Democrats and Independents have believed governments in other countries should do more about global warming. In 2020, 92% of Democrats and 69% of Independents thought businesses should do more, respectively. Minorities of Republicans have favored increased government action, with all time highs of 58-59% in 1997 and 1998 (see the figure below). The partisan gap was 49 percentage points in 2020.


Question wording can be found here.

Since 1997, majorities of Democrats Independents have believed average people should also do more about global warming. In 2020, 90% of Democrats and 70% of Independents thought average people should do more. Smaller, though still significant, proportions of Republicans have also favored increased individual action, with all time highs of 60% in 1997 and 1998 (see the figure below). The partisan gap was 43 percentage points in 2020.


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have consistently believed that the federal government should limit the amount of greenhouse gases that businesses emit. In 2020, 95% of Democrats, 58% of Republicans, and 76% of Independents favored this policy option, with a partisan gap of 37 percentage points (a fairly large increase from past years).


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have believed that the federal government should take action to deal with global warming even if other major industrial countries do not. In 2015, 87% of Democrats 58% of Republicans, and 76% of Independents took this stance, with a partisan gap of 29 percentage points in 2015, about the same as in 2008 and after.


Question wording can be found here.

SPECIFIC POLICIES

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have consistently favored federal government efforts to cause more electricity to be generated using water, wind, and solar power. In 2020, 91% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans, and 82% of Independents favored this policy, reflecting a partisan gap of 18 percentage points.


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have consistently favored federal government efforts to lower the amount of greenhouse gases produced by power plants. In 2020, 92% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans, and 81% of Independents supported this policy option, with a partisan gap of 28 percentage points (about the same as in 2013).


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have also consistently favored federal government efforts to cause improvement in fuel efficiency of cars. In 2020, 86% of Democrats, 52% of Republicans, and 70% of Independents supported this policy option, with a partisan gap of 34 percentage points (about the same as in 2013).


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have consistently favored federal government efforts to improve the energy efficiency of new buildings. In 2020, 86% of Democrats, 61% or Republicans, and 74% of Independents favored this policy option, with a partisan gap of 25 percentage points


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have consistently favored federal government efforts to cause appliances to become more energy efficient. In 2020, 86% or Democrats, 52% or Republicans, and 70% or Independents favored this policy option, with a partisan gap of 34 percentage points (about the same as in 2013).


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats and Independents have consistently favored federal government efforts to cause more cars to be built running completely on electricity. In 2015, 70% of Democrats and 60% or Independents favored this policy option, while 47% of Republicans did (see the figure below). The partisan gap was 23 percentage points in 2015, about the same as in 2010 and after.


Question wording can be found here.

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have consistently favored federal government efforts to encourage reducing air pollution from burning coal. Strikingly, this was most popular among Republicans in (76%), less popular among Independents (64%), and less popular still (60%) among Democrats (see graph below). Thus, the partisan gap reversed. In 2020, this policy was still most popular among Republicans, with a proportion of 70%.


Question wording can be found here.

The proportions of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who favored federal government efforts to provide tax breaks to encourage construction of nuclear power plants have varied above and below 50%. Republicans have almost always favored these plans more than Democrats and Independents. In 2020, 33% of Democrats, 44% of Republicans, and 37% of Independents favored this policy option, with a partisan gap of 11 percentage points (about the same as in 2006 and after).


Question wording can be found here.

An increase in federal taxes on gasoline to cause people to use less of it has almost never gained majority support. Increased gasoline taxes reached and surpassed 50% among Democrats in 2015 and 2018, then gained significant traction in 2020, reaching a peak at 65% (Figure 23). The partisan gap in 2020 was 47 percentage points, an all-time high.


Question wording can be found here.

An increase in federal taxes on electricity to cause people to use less of it has never gained majority support. Increased electricity taxes were supported by only 40% of Democrats, 12% of Republicans, and 27% of Independents in 2020 (Figure 24), with a partisan gap of 47 percentage points—an all-time high


Question wording can be found here.

ENGAGEMENT

The proportion of people in the global warming issue public (for whom the issue is extremely personally important) is largest among Democrats in 2020 at 43%. Meanwhile, 22% of Independents and 4% of Republicans fall into the issue public – a 39-percentage-point partisan gap, which is the largest gap since 1997.


Question wording can be found here.

Reported knowledge about climate change was high among all three groups, and higher among Democrats than among Republicans and Independents, with a 15-percentage-point partisan gap in 2020 (see the figure below).


Question wording can be found here.

TRUST IN SCIENTISTS

The vast majority of Democrats (87%) and smaller majorities of Republicans (56%) and Independents (74%) trusted scientists studying the environment in 2020. The partisan gap was 31 percentage points in 2020.


Question wording can be found here.