November 1, 2013

Some fascinating new findings from Pew Research suggest deep divisions among Republicans over whether global warming is happening:

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say there is solid evidence that the earth has been getting warmer over the last few decades, a figure that has changed little in the past few years. While partisan differences over climate change remain substantial, Republicans face greater internal divisions over this issue than do Democrats.

Just 25% of Tea Party Republicans say there is solid evidence of global warming, compared with 61%of non-Tea Party Republicans.

Republican voters overall are evenly divided, 46-46, over whether global warming is happening, but this divide is driven by the lopsided difference between Tea Party and non-Tea Party Republicans on the question, with a solid majority of the latter in the global warming camp. “It’s not Democrat versus Republican, it’s Democrat and Republican versus the Tea Party,” Jeff Gohringer, spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters, tells me.

Ron Brownstein has suggested that climate change — along with social issues — is one of a handful of priorities that is increasingly important to the very voter groups that could well give the Democratic Party a demographic edge over the GOP into the future. That “coalition of the ascendant” includes young voters, minorities, and college educated whites, especially women. I asked Pew for the percentages among these groups who believe there is solid evidence of global warming, and the theory is borne out:

* 73% of those aged 18-29 believe it’s happening.

* 76 percent of nonwhites believe it’s happening.

* 67 percent of college educated whites believe its happening.

It’s hard to know what all of this means, in part because – as even environmentalists concede — there is just no sign yet that there is any political or electoral price to be paid for climate denialism. (The League of Conservation Voters has run ads against climate-denying Republicans to test if there’s a way to change this.) But these numbers suggest — as Brownstein also has — that talking about climate change is a good way for Democrats to continue to signal to these core and growing voter groups that the Democratic Party better represents their priorities and vision for the future, while the GOP continues to refuse to evolve.

Indeed, this could be another issue where the Tea Party continues to constrain the GOP from expanding its appeal among groups it needs to win over and evolving the party’s image into the 21st century, though it’s very possible the electoral consequences of this will remain limited to non-existent for some time to come.

GOP attitudes are even more stark on the question of whether human activity is causing global warming. On that question, only 24 percent of Republicans say Yes (versus 54 percent of Americans overall). According to Pew, an astonishingly low nine percent of Tea Partyers agree. But this may be the most dispiriting finding of all:

Most Democrats say there is scientific consensus on global warming (71%). Only 41% of Republicans say that scientists generally agree, while 48% say they do not.

This only concerns whether respondents even know what the scientific consensus dictates, whether or not they agree with it. A plurality of Republicans do not.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.