The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication debuted a new study on Monday detailing what different factions of the Republican Party think about climate change. Their conclusion?
"Republican voters are actually split in their views about climate change. A look at public opinion among Republicans over the past few years finds a more complex -- and divided -- Republican electorate."
Strong majorities of liberal and moderate Republicans think global warming is happening, while majorities of conservative Republicans and tea party Republicans disagree.
A majority of liberal and moderate Republicans also think there should be emissions limits on existing coal-fired power plants, and a majority of Republicans -- every group except tea party Republicans -- think carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant and that Americans should receive tax rebates for buying efficient cars and solar panels.
At first glance, the data make it seem that there is a major rift tearing apart the Republican Party on environmental issues -- until you look at how big the liberal and moderate wing of the GOP happens to be.
In the study's sample, 70 percent of the Republicans polled identified themselves as conservative or tea party Republicans. Thirty percent of those surveyed self-identified as liberal (a particularly rare breed) or moderate Republicans.
There might be Republicans who think pursuing policy on climate change is a good idea, but they aren't the ones driving decisions in their party. And although that minority might believe in climate change and think it prudent to take steps to address it, that doesn't mean these respondents consider climate change their priority issue. In December, Gallup asked Americans to name the most important issue facing the country. Just 1 percent of respondents chose the environment or pollution.
The role that liberal and moderate Republicans play in their party, of course, shrinks even more during primary season. As the Pew Research Center demonstrated in its study on ideology from last June, the more conservative you are, the more likely you are to consistently cast a ballot during primaries.
In other words, don't expect any Republican presidential hopefuls to talk about their plans to address climate change during the primaries.
But that could change. Young Republicans are far more supportive of changes to environmental policy than older members of the party, as reporting from The Washington Post last year shows.
The GOP was once known for taking big steps to address threats to the environment (President Nixon did create the Environmental Protection Agency, after all, and Teddy Roosevelt is known as the "conservationist president"). And although these data do not seem to foretell any monumental change in the party's platform in the near future, it's clear the party's views on the issue are quite a bit more nuanced than most people think.