Worst polluting states least worried about climate change

William JordanUS Elections Editor
October 17, 2014, 2:46 PM GMT+0

Those in states with highest per person CO2 emissions are the least worried about global warming

While climate change, or global warming, has not emerged as a top issue in every campaign this year, it has arguably played a bigger role than in past election cycles. The issue has been raised at Senate debates in several states with close races, including Kentucky, Iowa and Colorado, and also in the recent gubernatorial debate in Florida. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has donated tens of millions of dollars to inject the issue into campaigns and support candidates who advocate for action.

Recent data from the New York Times / CBS News / YouGov Battleground Tracker sheds light on why global warming might be becoming a more important issue in campaigns: a majority of likely voters in 43 states, including 60% of voters nationally, consider the problem at least somewhat serious. However, voters are much less likely to see the issue as urgent. In only two states (Hawaii and Vermont) do most consider the problem of global warming as “very serious”, although around half of voters in populous states like California and New York take the same view. Nationally the number is 39%.

As previous research has shown, many Americans continue to doubt global warming exists or that human activity has an impact on it, and sceptics are predictably dismissive about the threat it poses.

YouGov’s state-by-state data also allows for comparisons between public opinion and the realities on the ground in individual states. One interesting trend that emerges is that many of the states where voters are least worried about global warming, are those with with the most annual per capita emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the gas scientists believe is most responsible for man-made climate change. The emissions data used is for 2011.

Wyoming, West Virginia, Nebraska and Kentucky are in the top 10 for emissions per capita and the bottom 10 for strong concerns about global warming. 15 of the top 20 per capita emitters are in the bottom 20 for global warming worries. The opposite is also true; voters in many of the states with the lowest per capita emissions, like New York, California and Vermont, sit near the top of the list in terms of global warming concerns.

Differences in per capita emissions between individual states have a number of contributing factors, including but not exclusively related to government action on emission reduction. Wyoming, for instance, has an economy heavily reliant on energy production, but also the lowest population density in the country. California, on the other hand, has a large population but has put in place especially aggressive policies aimed at cutting down on carbon emissions.

See more state-by-state results from the Battleground Tracker here.

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