PUBLIC OPINION

Belief in climate change climbs, including among conservatives

About 67 percent of Americans believe temperatures are rising, marking a slow but persistent rebound from the 2009 freefall in public opinion around climate change. Belief in warming now almost matches its pre-tumble level of four years ago, a new poll finds.

The national survey released yesterday by the Pew Research Center shows climbing acceptance of warming across all age groups and political party affiliations, including among more skeptical Republicans and senior citizens.

Nearly half, or 48 percent, of Republicans say there is "solid evidence" that Earth's temperature has increased over several decades. That is a rise of 5 points since last year and an increase of 13 points since 2009.

The biggest Republican jump came among conservatives, whose belief in warming leapt 12 points since 2011 and now stands at 43 percent. The party began shifting last year, when moderate Republicans showed a sharp rise in their acceptance of warming. Now, 58 percent of GOP moderates see evidence of temperature changes.

"It seems that the more conservative wing of the Republicans that we've talked with have shifted in the past year," said Leah Christian, a senior researcher at Pew, "much like their moderate counterparts did a year ago."

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There is sharper disagreement among Republicans on the cause of climate change. About 38 percent of GOP moderates say human activity like burning fossil fuels is driving up temperatures, while 16 percent of conservative Republicans blame man. About 23 percent of conservatives point to natural patterns for making things warmer, compared to 18 percent of GOP moderates.

Democrats are also divided. Large majorities of moderate or conservative Democrats and their liberal counterparts are convinced of rising temperatures, by margins of 83 percent and 91 percent, respectively. But they disagree on what is causing it. Fifty-one percent of moderate Democrats blame man, compared to 77 percent of liberals. That gap seems to be growing.

"The percentage of liberal Democrats saying warming is mostly caused by human activity increased 13 points from 64 percent last year," says the Pew report.

Swing voters reflect Obama

People supporting actions to address climate change might be encouraged by the rising belief among Republicans. But even as more people identified with the GOP see evidence of warming, the partisan gap has not narrowed. There is still a 37-point division between Democrats and Republicans.

Independents land in the middle with 65 percent saying there is evidence of warming. That is an uptick of just 2 points since last year and of 12 points since 2009.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who recently said that he believes humans are contributing to climate change, represents a small minority of registered voters who support him. About 42 percent of Romney supporters believe temperatures are rising, and 18 percent say it is mostly caused by humans, the poll says.

President Obama reflects his supporters, of whom 88 percent say there's warming. And 63 percent point to humans as the main reason.

Pew surveyed 1,511 people Oct. 4-7, including more than 1,100 registered voters who split almost evenly between supporting Obama or Romney. A subsection of 19 percent of registered voters is defined by Pew as swing voters, those who are leaning toward one of the candidates but who might also vote for his opponent.

Among these swing voters, 75 percent say there is solid evidence of warming, a larger proportion than independents and Republicans. The tendency of this group to believe in climate change could reflect a higher number of Democratic-leaning voters. Seven percent of swing voters in the Pew poll slightly favor Obama, while 4 percent lean toward Romney. Eight percent don't lean toward either candidate.

In any case, these crucial voters reflect the president's views on climate.

"They're clearly closer to, kind of, the Obama voter in essence than the Romney voter on this issue," said Christian.

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