Indiana University Survey Finds Hoosiers’ Political Divisions Extend to Environmental Issues

Hoosiers are divided on environmental issues along party lines, but mostly agree on solutions to climate change issues.
June 8, 2020

A new Indiana University report found a majority of Hoosiers, regardless of their political affiliation, believe climate change is happening but disagree on the cause.

Researchers from Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute looked at the responses from 10,000 Indiana residents who responded to the Hoosier Life Survey and analyzed the relationships between their self-reported political affiliation, their view on climate change and climate-resiliency policies and programs.

The researchers found that although a majority of Hoosiers reported believing in climate change, they had strong partisan disagreements on their perceptions of climate change, their explanations for the cause of climate change and plans to deal with the state’s changing climate.

A vast majority of Democrats and Independents in Indiana, about 93% and 79%, respectively, reported believing climate change is happening. About 58% of Republican Hoosiers also said they believed the same.

“People have used the term ‘two Americas,’ to talk about economic inequality and also to describe how political partisanship is shaping the way in which we view our reality, and I would say that expression certainly applies to what we found in terms of what Hoosiers feel about or believe about climate change,” said Matthew Houser, ERI assistant research scientist and study principal investigator. “Republican Indiana residents had drastically lower levels of concern, belief, things along those lines as compared to Democrats.”

About a quarter of all Indiana Republicans do not believe climate change is happening, a belief shared by 3% of Indiana Democrats.

Major divisions were also apparent in responses to the causes of climate change.

More than half of Indiana Republicans who believed in climate change, 52%, said humans played at least some part in causing climate change, compared to 86% of Indiana Democrats.

Houser said the results were surprising, but provide a bright spot of opportunity.

“The political group in Indiana that is most hesitant to accept humans’ causal role in climate change, the majority of them are willing to accept that humans play at least some role in causing climate change,” said Houser. “And, to me, that provides a stepping off point to have conversations that can either lead to greater acceptance of humans’ causal role in the future, or at least some action to address humans’ causal role, hopefully.”

More younger Hoosiers, regardless of political affiliation, were found to be more likely than older Hoosiers to believe that climate change is caused primarily by human activity.

About 80% of Indiana Democrats between ages 18 and 29 agreed, while only about 57% between 30 and 39 agreed.

The trend was also seen among younger Republicans. About 34% of Indiana Republicans between ages 18 and 29 believe climate change is caused primarily by human activity, while only 22% of those 30 to 39 years old did.

“Climate change is going to be bad for everyone, but the youth, the 18-year-olds and so right now, are going to be experiencing having to live with some really awful changes in the future in ways that older generations won’t have to,” said Houser. “So, in many ways it makes sense that the people whose futures have been sacrificed in some way to achieve short terms gains are taking this differently than people who won’t have to deal with the consequences of their actions.”

Political affiliation was also found to affect how Hoosiers perceived changes in their local climate. Twice the amount of Indiana Democrats said they saw a change in the amount of heavy rains, floods, tornadoes, heat waves and droughts in their community over time.

Despite numerous rifts in opinion, Hoosiers did agree on some items.

A vast majority of Hoosiers from all parties considered themselves “environmentalists” to some degree. About a third of Hoosiers from all parties also agreed that people, plants and animals in the state would suffer a moderate amount of harm.

A similar amount of Indiana Democrats and Republicans also supported a hypothetical tax increase on corporations and companies that would make those that pollute more pay more to the state.

“This survey illustrates that partisanship in this country is real, and it’s a major barrier to lots of different changes that are necessary to improve the status of our world,” said Houser. “So we need to encourage scientifically appropriate views across the U.S. population, across the Indiana population in a way that recognizes that it is going to be difficult to shift some people’s attitudes, and we need to do it delicately so we don’t further alienate people.”

Indiana University Survey Finds Hoosiers’ Political Divisions Extend to Environmental Issues