Where is the Right on Climate Change?

This snapshot on climate is part of Citizen’s “American Right Democracy Roadmap”. Read the full Climate Snapshot here.

Agreement Climate Change Is Real, But Split on Cause

Over 80% on the Right acknowledge the existence of climate change, but only one third think humans are responsible. About one-in-three (32%) right-of-center Americans say they believe climate change is “caused mostly by human activities”, while about half (52%) believe it is “caused mostly by natural changes in the environment” — and 15% deny climate change is happening at all.

  • The youngest cohort (18-34) is most likely to cite human activities as the primary cause of climate change (36%) and least likely to attribute climate change to natural causes (33%). 
  • Conversely, the oldest cohort (65+) is least likely to believe in man-made climate change (23%) and most inclined to explain climate change as the product of natural causes (52%). 
  • Across all ages, a small but consistent proportion deny climate change is happening.

  • Self-described liberals and moderates (46%) are much more likely to cite human activities as the primary cause of climate change when compared to those identifying as “somewhat” (28%) or “very” conservative (17%).
    • However, logistic regression analyses suggest that, consistent with recent research, this is likely due less to differences in ideology than to the increasing association of “conservatism” with former President Trump. Increasing warmth towards Trump powerfully predicts lack of belief in man-made climate change regardless of ideology.

  • Only one-in-three (33%) on the Right recognize the existence of a scientific consensus on climate change, while nearly half (46%) say that many scientists disagree about whether climate change is happening.

Lack of Urgency to Solve Climate Change

Despite near-consensus on the Right about the reality of climate change, few on the Right are worried about it—except the young. Overall, fewer than one-in-ten are “very worried” about climate change (9%) and only one-in-four (25%) are “somewhat worried”.  Conversely, more than two in three (67%) are “not very” (30%) or “not at all worried” (37%). 

  • Around half (51%) of those aged 18-34 are “very” (13%) or “somewhat” (38%) worried while just one-in-four (26%) of those aged 65+ say the same.
  • Similarly, few say climate change is personally “extremely” (6%) or “very” (11%) important to them, while many more say it is “not too” (26%) or “not at all” important (30%).
  • This lack of concern is unsurprising given that a plurality say climate change has had no effect at all on them or their family (41%), many more than those who say it has impacted them “a great deal” (7%) or even “some” (19%).
  • Likewise, few expect to be harmed “a great deal” (7%) or a “moderate amount” (17%) by climate change compared to “only a little” (23%) or “not at all” (43%), although they are more likely to say that climate change will harm future generations “a great deal” (17%) or “a moderate amount” (24%).

Despite Lack of Concern, Clear Opportunities to Grow Policy Support

While right-of-center Americans generally aren’t worried about climate change, there is substantial support for some solutions. Support for proposed climate policies ranges from about one-in-four (carbon tax on fossil fuel companies) to a narrow majority (increased funding for renewable energy research).

  • Overall, support is higher for voluntary “positive” incentives than for compulsory “negative” incentives, although patterns in support do not map clearly onto a divide between policies involving direct state intervention (e.g., subsidies and regulations) and “market-oriented” policies (e.g., carbon taxes).
  • Worryingly, support is highest for current policies that are unlikely to result in substantial short-to-medium-term reductions in carbon emissions and lowest for those new policies most likely to directly reduce carbon emissions.

  • However, about one-in-five say they are undecided across each of the seven tested climate policy proposals, suggesting opportunities for persuasion.
  • Regression analyses show that support for policy action varies substantially by self-described ideology—conditional on political knowledge. This suggests that ideology matters—but primarily by helping more knowledgeable Americans to align their ideological identities with the “appropriate” positions held e.g., by “conservatives” or “moderates” on climate policy.

  • A randomized message test shows that using revenues from carbon taxes on fossil fuel companies to reduce taxes for taxpayers does not significantly increase support compared to a straightforward proposal to impose carbon taxes on fossil fuel companies. This suggests that attitudes towards carbon taxes are not substantially shaped by perceptions of individual self-interest, but reflect broader ideological or cultural conflicts. This also suggests that the term “carbon tax” may be politically poisonous on the Right, although this may be due to the framing, rather than the content of the policy.

Support for US Emissions Reductions Doesn’t Depend on Chinese Action

For Americans on the Right, support for US emissions reductions does not depend on reciprocal reductions from China—even when they’re told  that China contributes twice as much to global carbon emissions as the United States.

  • About one-in-five support US emissions reductions regardless of what other countries do, while about 25% would support reductions if other industrialized countries (“like Japan”) also reduce emissions. Far fewer condition their support on reciprocal reductions from developing countries (“like China”).

  • These findings are strikingly consistent with an emerging body of research suggesting that climate action—whether among policymakers or mass publics— does not depend on Paris accord-style reciprocal reductions.


The Takeaways

Over four-in-five on the Right recognize that climate change is real—although only one-in-three acknowledge that it is primarily caused by human activities.  However, there is little urgency on the Right to confront climate change, as few are personally worried about it, regard it as important, or expect to be personally affected by it (although considerably more regard it as a serious problem for future generations).

  • Younger right-of-center Americans are most likely to believe in climate change driven by human activity, worry about it, view it as personally important, expect to be harmed by it, and to support climate policy action.
  • On the Right, self-identified moderates are substantially more likely to support climate policy action overall. What’s more, support among moderates remains relatively strong even at higher levels of political knowledge—suggesting support may remain robust among moderates even in the context of a polarized policy debate. 
  • Support for climate policy solutions varies considerably—those on the Right are much more supportive of voluntary incentives than of tax mandates. 
  • However, a randomized experiment shows that opposition to carbon tax proposals are unlikely to be grounded in calculations of personal self-interest. Instead, it is likely that the term “carbon tax” is politically poisonous to those on the Right. New research should investigate whether reframed carbon tax policies may attract greater support on the Right.
  • Support for US emissions reductions—even among those on the Right—does not depend on reciprocal reductions from China.

Despite the lack of urgency on the Right, this research suggests clear opportunities:

  • Across a wide range of measures, younger cohorts on the Right show the greatest understanding of the climate crisis and openness to taking action.
  • Recent research suggests that personal experience can inform climate change awareness. Thus, low levels of concern on the Right about climate change suggest possible opportunities for raising awareness of climate impacts—and thus, support for policy action. 
  • Support is highest for funding research into renewable energy, providing tax rebates for consumers who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels, and teaching about climate change in public schools.
  • Future research should focus on identifying the most effective persuasion messages for young people on the Right.

Findings from this data collection will inform proprietary voter and audience models to support persuasion and mobilization efforts on climate change.