WASHINGTON — Three out of every four Americans believe climate change is occurring, according to a University of Texas survey released Tuesday that documents the country’s rapidly evolving views on the issue.
Today’s 76 percent figure is a big jump from just five years ago, when 65 percent of respondents in the biannual UT energy poll said climate change was occurring.
But survey respondents’ views on the issue and other hot-button energy and environment topics are still closely tied to their political affiliation, with 90 percent of Democrats saying climate change is occurring compared to just 59 percent of Republicans. The contrast is even sharper when looking at the number of respondents who believe climate change is definitely not occurring — 29 percent of Republicans compared to 3 percent of Democrats.
“Political ideology continues to be the single greatest determinant of Americans’ views on climate change,” said UT Energy Poll Director Sheril Kirsenbaum in a statement.
Most of the 2,019 respondents in the online survey pinned the blame for climate change on deforestation, followed closely by oil and coal use. The perception of natural gas as a contributing factor to climate change increased slightly to 44 percent of respondents, up from 40 percent six months ago.
The shifting ground on climate change comes as world leaders prepare for international negotiations in Paris this December. The cornerstone of the Obama administration’s climate plan is regulation cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
But President Barack Obama is emphasizing non-regulatory action — including private sector’s voluntary work on the issue — to help build more momentum for the talks. On Monday, Obama met with business leaders who are making public commitments to shrink their carbon footprint. All told some 81 companies signed on to the administration’s “American Business Act on Climate Pledge,” including Berkshire Hathway Energy, Calpine and Iberdrola USA.
Obama said the private sector pledges illustrate that combatting climate change is not just for “tree-huggers,” and instead, “American businesses want this to happen as well.”
The UT Energy Poll — now in its ninth wave and fifth year — suggests climate change and potential policies for tackling it could be an issue at the ballot box. For instance:
- Some 62 percent of survey respondents said they would be more likely to vote for candidates who support forcing power utilities to get some of their electricity from renewable sources.
- Fifty-two percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to reduce coal as an energy source.
Survey respondents widely gave a thumbs down to using a carbon tax to pare emissions of the greenhouse gas. Just 37 percent of survey respondents said they would be more likely to vote for candidates who favor imposing a carbon tax.
The survey was conducted from Sept. 1-15 online and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.