Hurricanes, wildfires and record-setting summer heat have taken a toll on America. More than half the country (56%) in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll say they expect to feel the results of climate change in their lifetimes and 43 percent say they have felt them already.
Nearly the same percentages in all regions of the country have felt the effects of climate change, but there are still group differences, mostly based on age and partisanship. It may not be a surprise that two-thirds of those under 30 expect they will be affected by climate change in their lifetimes. After all, they are likely to be alive longer than those 65 and older. Less than half of senior citizens expect to feel the impact of climate change during their lifetimes.
Party identification remains a critical predictor of opinion about climate change: Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to expect climate change to affect them personally; they are more than twice as likely to say it already has. Few who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 say climate change has or will affect them. Only 19 percent think it has, and only 30 percent think it will.
That parallels overall opinion about climate change. More than half of Republicans aren’t concerned about climate change’s impact on them, while nearly nine in 10 Democrats are at least somewhat concerned. Nearly nine in 10 Republicans say they believe climate change is happening, but most of them do not attribute it to human activity. Large majorities of Democrats and independents say human activity is to blame. Those who think humans are not responsible for climate change also don’t believe they will ever feel any effects.
However, Republican acceptance of climate change has increased since this summer’s heatwaves.
Some specific climate change effects are a concern. About half the public expects threats to coastal areas from rising sea levels as well as more intense storms during their lifetimes, as well as increased difficulties for farmers. They also believe some parts of the world will be harder for humans to inhabit. A majority of Republicans agree that at least one of these things will occur, although four in 10 don’t think any will.
People who don’t think they personally will experience the impact of climate change are also skeptical that governments or individuals can do anything to mitigate a change they doubt will happen. They overwhelmingly don’t see a human role in causing climate change and say they prefer candidates who won’t take specific action to limit or stop it.
Those aren’t the views of a majority of Americans, however. Most believe governments can take action that will slow the speed of climate change, and that humans can have an impact as well. Most also think the US has a special role to play. By two to one, the public believes that more developed countries have a greater responsibility than less developed countries to control greenhouse gases, and that the United States should take measures to control greenhouse gases and pollution even if that makes it less competitive in the global economy.
When it comes to politics, Americans, including one in four Republicans (24%), prefer a candidate who wants to take action to try and fight climate change—though more Republicans disagree. Three-fourths of Democrats (75%) and four in ten Independents (42%) want a candidate who will fight climate change. But on this question as well as on many others, what matters is whether a person believes that climate change has a human dimension and that they personally will feel its impact.