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The Majority of Republicans Believe in Regulating Carbon Emissions

The Republican Party may be undergoing a shift on its stance toward climate change, a study finds.
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(Photo: pentax/Flickr)

(Photo: pentax/Flickr)

On the heels of last year’s Pew study showing that the majority of Americans believe in climate change, researches at Yale University have further blurred the lines by demonstrating that the majority of Republicans do in fact support the reduction of carbon pollution.

By polling a wide range of Republicans—liberal leaning, moderate, conservative, and Tea Party members—researchers have shown that, overall, 56 percent of Republicans support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Predictably, the subdivided percentages reflect how far right each group leans: 71 percent of liberal Republicans and 74 percent of moderate Republicans believe carbon dioxide should be regulated, while only 54 percent of conservatives and 36 percent of Tea Party Republicans do.

When the Atlanta Tea Party, for example, joined with the Sierra Club in 2013 to argue for Georgia homeowners' right to install solar roofing panels, there was party philosophy—though not necessarily environmental—at play.

However, when asked about their thoughts on global warming in general, the party was a bit more hesitant. While the majority of self-identified liberal and moderate Republicans believe global warming is real—68 percent and 62 percent, respectively—that number drops to 38 percent of conservative Republicans and a dismal 29 percent of Tea Partiers.

To reach these numbers, Yale's Project on Climate Change Communication aggregated data from six national surveys, conducted between 2012 and 2014. In all, responses from 5,513 registered voters—2,330 of whom identified as Republican or Republican-leaning—were taken into account. The survey incorporated all socioeconomic groups (researchers even provided laptops and Internet access to a portion of the panel).

This study is timely, if not confounding, as the new Republican-led Congress has promised to dismantle the EPA’s new regulations on carbon pollution from power plants.

Project Director Anthony Leiserowitz says that in a landscape where denying climate change is becoming less and less feasible, their findings reflect a struggle within the Republican Party to define its position on the issue.

“They’re beginning to shift their stance. I suspect we won’t again see eight candidates on a platform again saying that climate change isn’t real,” Anthony says, referring to the 2012 Republican Party presidential debates.

He also notes that many Republicans are already on board with energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels for non-environmental reasons. When the Atlanta Tea Party, for example, joined with the Sierra Club in 2013 to argue for Georgia homeowners' right to install solar roofing panels, there was party philosophy—though not necessarily environmental—at play.

“They were fighting against Georgia Power, which is a state monopoly,” Anthony says. “Now why did they work together? The Sierra Club did because they care about climate change. The Tea Party doesn’t believe in climate change. They do, however, believe in individual freedom and consumer choice, in particular the right of individuals to generate their own energy, to be self-reliant. And in this case, both of those groups could agree on the same policy for completely different reasons.”

Their findings back it up: When asked about tax rebates for green living—that is, for those who have purchased solar panels or energy-efficient vehicles—Yale researchers found that a whopping 77 percent and 73 percent, respectively, of liberal-leaning and moderate-conservative support the policy, while the majority of conservative Republicans (63 percent) and nearly a majority of Tea Partiers (46 percent) do too.