Do college graduates believe people cause climate change? It depends on their political party

October 29, 2021, 8:20 PM UTC

Belief that the climate is changing is nearly unanimous among American adults. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll only 7% of Americans deny climate change is occurring, with 10% not sure. The big division lies in beliefs over how responsible people are for climate change.

Democrats overwhelmingly see a human cause to climate change, with 86% saying the world’s climate is changing as a result of human activity, while only 32% of Republicans agree and 42% see climate change as the result of something else. The gap widens among college graduates. Nearly all Democrats with college degrees (95%) believe in a human cause of climate change, as do 63% of Independents with college degrees. But just 21% of Republican college graduates believe humans contribute to climate change, 11 percentage points below the rate for Republicans overall.

This phenomenon among Republican college graduates appears to be new. In other recent polls, having a college degree has made no difference in Republicans' likelihood of saying human activity causes climate change, whereas it has been linked to a greater likelihood of saying human activity causes climate change among Americans overall, Democrats, and Independents.

What can be done about climate change? Seven in 10 Americans don’t think what people do as individual consumers can have more than “a little” impact. But 55% believe large companies can have “a lot” of impact.

A sense of urgency about climate change corresponds to a greater belief in the impact that consumers and companies can make. A majority of the one-third of Americans who see climate change as “the greatest threat to human health” believe consumers (57%) and large companies (87%) can make a lot of difference.

A belief that people cause climate change also corresponds to a belief that people can have a large impact on climate change. Women are 10 percentage points more likely than men to believe climate change is caused by human activity. They also are more likely than men to think human activity can affect climate change — that consumers and large companies can have a large impact. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between October 24 - 26, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the overall sample. 

Image: Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels