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News Release | Poll shows fine line GOP candidates walk on climate change, evolution

[09.22.2011]

Half of Tea Party rejects climate change, evolution

Washington, D.C. – While nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Americans believe there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, and nearly 6-in-10 (57%) Americans believe humans and other living things evolved over time, a new survey finds that approximately half of Americans who identify with the Tea Party reject both (50% reject global warming and 51% reject evolution).

The new PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey was conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, in partnership with the Religion News Service, amid back and forth among Republican presidential candidates on religion and science, especially the issues of climate change and evolution.

The survey finds that attitudes on climate change and evolution present strategic challenges for GOP presidential candidates: Americans who identify as Republican, along with key groups in the Republican base such as white evangelical Protestants and members of the Tea Party, hold views that differ significantly from the general population and from political independents.

“While most Americans say the issues of evolution and climate change do not strongly influence their support of candidates, these issues are symbolically important for two groups that play an outsize role in Republican primary politics: white evangelical Protestants and members of the Tea Party,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “The challenge for Republican candidates is to talk about these issues now in a way that will not hurt them later in the general election.”

The survey also uncovers new complexity on the question of evolution. Among those affirming a belief in evolution, a majority (53%) say evolution is due to natural processes, compared to 38% who say a supreme being guided the process. Among those affirming creationism, fully half (50%) say humans and other living thing were created within the last 10,000 years, compared to 39% who disagree. There are large partisan differences on this question.

“Americans who identify with the Tea Party and white evangelical Protestants strongly reject evolution,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “In fact, roughly one-third of these groups believe humans and other living things were created within the last 10,000 years.”

Among the Findings:

A majority (57%) of Americans believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time, compared to 38% who say that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since creation.

  • More than 6-in-10 political independents (61%) and Democrats (64%) affirm a belief in evolution, compared to 45% of Republicans and 43% of Americans who identify with the Tea Party.
  • Nearly two-thirds (66%) of white mainline Protestants, 61% of Catholics, and 77% of the unaffiliated believe humans and other living things evolved over time, compared to only about one-third (32%) of white evangelicals. African American Protestants are evenly divided on the question, with 47% affirming a belief in evolution and 46% affirming a belief in creationism.

Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Americans say that there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, compared to only 26% who disagree.

  • There are large, asymmetrical political divisions over belief about climate change. Eighty-one percent of Democrats and 7-in-10 independents believe the earth is getting warmer, compared to less than half (49%) of Republicans and only about 4-in-10 (41%) Americans who identify as members of the Tea Party.
  • Strong majorities of every religious group say that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer, including 7-in-10 Catholics and the unaffiliated, 63% of white mainline Protestants, and 57% of white evangelicals.

A majority (53%) of Americans say that if a candidate does not believe in evolution, it would have no effect on their likelihood of voting for the candidate. Among those who say it matters, more than twice as many say they would be less likely (32%) than say they would be more likely (13%) to vote for the candidate.

  • White evangelical Protestants are the only demographic group among whom the balance is the other way: nearly one-third (32%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who did not believe in evolution, compared to 24% who say they would be less likely. Only 40% say a candidate’s belief in evolution would make no difference to their vote.

A majority (54%) of Americans also say that if a candidate said they did not believe climate change is caused by human activity, if would have no effect on their likelihood of voting for the candidate. Among those who say it matters, four times as many say that they would be less likely (36%) than say they would be more likely (9%) to support a candidate who does not believe in human-caused climate change.

  • Members of the Tea Party are much more likely than any other group to say that they would be more likely (33%) than less likely (24%) to support a candidate who does not believe in climate change. Only 16% of Republicans, 9% of independents, and 5% of Democrats say they would be more likely. Half of Democrats say it would make them less likely.

A slim majority (51%) of Americans believe that scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time. About one-quarter (26%) say they are divided, and 15% say scientists generally disagree that humans evolve over time.

Only 4-in-10 Americans believe that scientists generally agree that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity. Nearly as many (37%) say the scientific community is divided, and 15% believe scientists generally disagree that humans are causing temperatures on earth to rise.

Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) of Americans agree that God gave humans beings the task of living responsibly with animals, plants and the resources of the planet, compared to 36% who say that God gave human beings the right to use animals, plants and all the resources of the plant for human benefit.

Half of Americans believe dealing with climate change now will create new jobs and help avoid more serious economic problems in the future, compared to 43% who believe that given current economic problems we cannot afford to deal with climate change.

Read the full report, topline results, questionnaire and full methodology here.

*The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) random digit dial telephone interviews conducted between September 14, 2011 and September 18, 2011, by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,013 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (301 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.0 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.