PUBLIC OPINON:

Big partisan gap on climate change is widened by tea partiers

The partisan divide over alternative energy grew the past two years, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Republican support for increased federal funding for wind, solar and hydrogen technology dropped 20 points from 2008, the survey found. There was a 13-point drop in the same time frame among GOP respondents favoring "better fuel efficiency" for vehicles.

Democratic views on the same questions changed little over the past two years, the poll found. Among independents, there was a decline, but less pronounced than with Republicans. The partisan difference likely is a result of increasing suspicion among Republicans about government spending, rather than disdain for renewable energy, said Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College, who did not conduct the Pew poll. Carroll Doherty of the Pew Center echoed his comments about government funding.

"Anything that smacks of expansion of government budgets is unlikely to score very well with Republicans right now," said Borick, who has studied public opinion on climate change. The reason for that is complex, he said, with the recession and the deficit playing potential roles.

Republicans who identify with the tea party movement also are more likely than other Republicans to say there is no solid evidence the Earth's temperature is rising, according to the poll.

The Grand Canyon of disbelief

Pew reported a 40-percentage-point difference between Republicans and Democrats generally believing in "solid evidence" that the Earth is warming, with 79 percent of Democrats holding that view, compared to 38 percent of Republicans. That mirrors previous surveys. Among tea partiers, though, the belief number falls to 30 percent, Pew said.

Overall, the poll found little change from last year among adults on the "solid evidence" question. There also was little change in the total percentage of individuals believing warming is caused by human activity. The big drop in belief occurred between April 2008 and last fall, but the percentage has budged little since then, Pew said.

Most of the scientific community backs the cause and existence of global warming, but Pew documented a large drop from 2006 in the percentage of Americans who believe there is agreement. Less than a majority of Americans, or 44 percent, believe there is scientific agreement that the "earth is getting warmer because of human activity." That is a drop from 59 percent in July 2006.

There was similar plunge in the percentage from 2007 saying global warming warrants immediate government action.

"This decline is mostly a consequence of the fact that fewer now say global warming is a problem," Pew said.

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