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Many US Catholic Politicians Out Of Touch On Climate Change

To accompany the Roman Catholic Pope’s blockbuster climate encyclical (Laudato Si) this week, a team from Yale and George Mason Universities published a substantial note about the views of American Catholics on climate change. One in four people in the US are Catholic, making the results important as a bellwether for the political views of this large community.

The results of the meta-analysis include the following:

  • Catholic Republicans are more concerned about global warming than other Republicans.
  • A majority of Catholic Republicans think global warming is happening and is caused mostly by human activities.

Catholic Republican global warming beliefs (environment.yale.edu)

  • Conservative Catholic Republicans are more likely than other conservative Republicans to understand that most scientists think global warming is occurring.

Conservative Republican global warming beliefs (environment.yale.edu)

  • Catholic Republicans are more supportive of policies to reduce global warming.Catholic Republican global warming beliefs (environment.yale.edu)The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication have been collecting reports on US public opinion about climate change since 2012. The findings above combine data from six nationally representative surveys of American adults conducted from then through this spring. Results from each of the six were weighted equally to adjust for differences in sample size.

Survey Field Dates and Number of Respondents

  • February 27 – March 10, 2015; 1,263 American adults
  • October 17 – 28, 2014; 1,275 American adults
  • April 15 – 23, 2014; 1,384 American adults
  • November 23 – December 9, 2013; 830 American adults
  • 
April 8 – 15, 2013; 1,045 American adults
  • 
August 31 – September 12, 2012; 1,061 American adults

Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale, the lead author, discussed the importance of the findings in terms of the Pope’s message on climate change:

“These results indicate that the Pope’s message on climate change is likely to find receptive ears among Catholic Republicans and even conservative Catholic Republicans.”

Another very interesting thought, since all the survey results derive from polls taken before the Pope’s encyclical: the analysis may also indicate a startling and longtime disjunction between the root views of American Catholics and those of Republican Catholic politicians currently in office. According to 2015 Pew Research Center data, just over a quarter of members of Congress are Catholic.

Religious makeup of US Congress (pewforum.org)Yet over 56% of Congressional Catholic Republicans deny or question the science of climate change, according to 2013 numbers. (Go to the interactive version of the map below for some eye-opening state-by-state details on political climate change beliefs, state disaster statistics, and money received by politicians from fossil fuel interests.) Neither Republican-controlled chamber currently supports policies to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Congressional Republicans who deny climate change (think progress.com)

Percent of each state’s Congressional delegation that denies climate change: gray = 0, dark red = 51+% (think progress.org)

The trends shown above indicate that calling oneself an American Catholic means different things to different people. They also indicate that many Catholic Republican politicians are out of step with the majority of Republican Catholics–even the most conservative of Catholic constituents. Will the Pope’s message increase or decrease the disparity? And in future US elections, how will the results affect a very important swing vote?

 
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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

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