A divided nation.
Although Ken Bone’s meteoric rise to fame since Sunday night is due in large part to his red, partially zippered sweater, the question he posed about energy at the second presidential debate deserves as much attention as his getup. That’s because it came at a time when the two major party nominees’ supporters couldn’t be more starkly divided in their views about all things energy, environment and climate.
A new analysis by the Pew Research Center, released Monday, shows that the two camps of voters are worlds apart when it comes to climate change and that the divide extends across every aspect of the debate. It starts with voters’ overall sentiments toward climate change as an issue—among registered voters, 56 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters say they care a great deal about the issue, while only 15 percent of Donald Trump supporters say the same.
From there, the gap moves down into more specific aspects of the debate. Not only do the two camps completely disagree about why the Earth is warming—70 percent of Clinton supporters say it’s because of human activity, while 77 percent of Trump supporters say it’s either because of natural patterns or there is no solid evidence the Earth is even warming—they can’t even seem to agree on any actions that could be taken to try to mitigate climate change.
Given six different scenarios that could address climate change, Trump supporters could not muster majority confidence in a single one, while Clinton supporters expressed confidence in all six. For example, 66 percent of Clinton supporters say restrictions on power plant emissions could make a big difference in addressing climate change, versus 39 percent of Trump supporters.
The data are in line with what Trump puts out there about his own climate change sentiments. Though he claims it was a joke, Trump has tweeted that the entire concept of climate change is a hoax, saying, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
The wide divide in the Pew analysis isn’t necessarily a direct reflection of Trump’s feelings, though, says Brian Kennedy, the author of the analysis. Rather, it’s a divide reflected in Democrat versus Republican ideology, which goes back at least a decade.
“The one prominent factor that drives people’s answers about climate change is their political ideology,” Kennedy says. “If you go back a decade, we see a pretty intense divide on these questions. There’s been remarkable stability in public opinion, so it doesn’t seem like this particular campaign has changed that.”
What’s clear is that U.S. policies on addressing climate change could go two very different ways, depending on what happens November 8. If Clinton is elected, she will likely use the various regulatory actions mentioned in Pew’s analysis to try to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and thereby lessen the effects of climate change. If Trump is elected, climate change denier Myron Ebell will lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition team, and perhaps global warming will just magically disappear altogether. Or not.