When Scientific Facts Get Divided Down Party Lines

A Intermountain Power Project coal-burning plant in Utah Utah Geological Survey

There’s one issue that’s more politically divisive than gun control or abortion. That’s the question of whether human activity is the primary driver of climate change. In a new poll, there was only one question pollsters asked that Democrats and Republicans were more likely to disagree about than the climate one: whether President Barack Obama is doing a good job.

This is a funny result, because there’s no scientific debate about whether global warming is human-caused. Scientists have said they’re as confident about human-driven climate change as they are that cigarettes cause lung cancer. Why do answers to these questions fall out along party lines, then? The poll, conducted among New Hampshire residents by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, offers a partial answer. While strong majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents all said they trust scientists when it comes to environmental issues, only 28 percent of Tea Party Republicans answered “yes” to that question.

Indeed, the Tea Party seems to be quite an anti-science, as well as an anti-scientist, group. A large majority of Tea Party Republicans who responded to the Carsey Institute poll were skeptical of two other scientific facts: whether warming in the Arctic will affect local weather, and whether evolution is real. Keep in mind that this is in a state in which more people trust scientists (64 percent) than the national average (54 percent):

Coincidentally, one new political initiative made headlines this week for its plans to capitalize on the divisions in people’s beliefs about global warming. Billionaire hedge funder Tom Steyer launched an advocacy group called NextGen Climate, giving it a $100 million budget. NextGen Climate will run political ads against climate change-denying politicians in key states such as Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire. If global warming is as hot of an issue as it seems, perhaps NextGen Climate’s tactics will work.

There are a couple other interesting results from the Carsey Institute poll, which aimed to gauge New Hampshire voters’ trust in science. One is a head-scratcher. Sixty percent of non-Tea Party Republicans say they trust scientists about the environment, yet only 36 percent say they think climate change is primarily caused by people. So it’s not just trust in scientists that makes the difference between Republicans’ and Democrats’ acceptance of the facts about climate change.

The other funny result shows there’s at least one science-related issue that doesn’t follow party lines. If look at the graphs above, you’ll see that on the question of whether to label genetically modified foods, many Democrats and Tea Party Republicans more likely to agree. Try that topic at your next family reunion.

Hat tip to Mother Jones, where we first saw the Carsey Institute results.