Where a Republican lives may determine views on climate change, study finds

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — It’s no secret that most Republican leaders and voters tend to downplay what most Democrats say are the imminent dangers of climate change, but a new study finds where a conservative stands on such theories often depends on where they live.

Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) obtained opinions on climate and energy issues derived from a large survey conducted between 2008 and 2016, matching this data with state voter files.

Climate change protest
A new study finds that while most Republican voters don’t put much stock in climate change theories, conservative views tend to vary depending on where the voter lives. (Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash)

This work allowed them to examine whether a region’s general political ideology (i.e., its level of liberalism or conservatism) shaped its beliefs and attitudes on climate and energy issues.

Although only a quarter of conservative voters nationwide believed in the scientifically-backed reality and causes of climate change, this figure did increase substantially for Republicans who lived in liberal states (e.g., New York, California, and Delaware).

One example of divergence from party platform would be with Republican voter support of Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) policies in 111 congressional districts held by Republican lawmakers.

Other examples include carbon dioxide being seen as a pollutant by a majority of Republican voters in all but one state, and conservative South Floridians supporting stringent regulation of carbon pollution.

“While subsets of the Republican voting public do not support climate policies and hold views consistent with party elite, Republican climate and energy opinions are more varied than might be presumed from political discourse,” explains Matto Mildenberger, who led the research, in a news release. “Similarly, the results emphasize consistent support among Democrats for climate and energy policies, despite variation in belief intensity.”

Mildenberger believes his team’s findings can help decision-makers, educators, and communicators working at the local level to better connect with voters.

“Accelerating state and local policymaking highlights the need for public opinion and policy preference data at these subnational spatial scales,” emphasizes Jennifer Marlon, the study’s co-author, of the team’s findings.

The study’s findings were published last week in the journal Climatic Change.