GOP Has a Generational Split Over Climate Change

November 26, 2019by Frank Kummer
Alice Klafke, 5, left, and her sister Maria, 9, holds signs at the Capitol during a demonstration in September to call attention to climate change. (Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

PHILADELPHA — There’s a generational divide between older and younger Republicans when it comes to climate change, but overall, most Americans agree that the science — and the problem — are real, according to a national Pew survey released Monday.

Almost two-thirds of all Americans say the federal government isn’t doing enough to address climate change and want it to focus on developing renewable energy sources, according to Pew. That might not be surprising since polls have been trending that way for years.

But digging deeper into the survey of more than 3,627 nationally representative panelists in October shows an age divide between millennials and Generation Z Republicans and their Generation X and baby boomer counterparts.

About 52% of Republicans between the ages of 18 to 38 say the government is doing too little on climate. Meanwhile, 41% of their elders believe so.

There’s also a gender divide, with more Republican women than men saying the government is not doing enough.

Those divisions persist on protecting water and air quality, with younger people and women within the party more supportive of regulatory efforts. The report comes at a time when the Trump administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are aggressively seeking to roll back protections put in place during the Obama administration.

Cari Funk, director of science and society research at Pew, was cautious about drawing conclusions on long term trends, but said the findings are similar to those found last year. Pew has migrated away from telephone interviews to an Internet-based survey. So it is not comparing results of survey years prior to 2018.

“We noticed this difference about a year ago,” Funk said of a generational split.

Funk noted Democrats are consistent in an overwhelming belief in climate change, that it’s caused by humans and that government isn’t doing enough. That belief is consistent among all ages and both genders.

It’s only within the GOP that the split occurs.

“It’s not brand new, but it’s certainly a more recent phenomenon,” Funk said.

Funk emphasized that beliefs of younger Republicans, however, don’t align with their Democratic age cohorts.

“We don’t want to overstate the differences,” Funk said. “Millennials and Gen Z Republicans don’t look like Democrats on these issues, but they don’t look like the older generation (of Republicans) either.”

For example, Democrats tend to believe that climate policies do more good than harm for the environment. But Millennial and Gen Z Republicans are still skeptical about government. Only 40% believe climate policies do more good than harm.

The cause of climate change continues to be a partisan issue. Older Republicans in particular attribute the problem to natural, not man made, causes.

Overall, about half of Americans say human activity contributes a “great deal” to climate change.

But more than 8 in 10 Democrats attribute climate change to human activity, compared with fewer than 4 in 10 Republicans blaming people for the crisis.

Renewable energy sources also reflect a GOP divide, with younger people less in favor of offshore drilling for oil and natural gas than older Republicans. And, they are less likely to support hydraulic fracturing.

“You’re seeing a majority of millennials and Gen Z saying, we should prioritize renewable energy sources,” Funk said.

———

©2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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