Skip to main content

Republicans and Democrats in Different Worlds on Climate Change

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Dina Smeltz , Emily Sullivan , and Colin Wolff
An artist finishes a mural of the earth on fire with the caption "while you were talking."

As President Biden heads to the UN Climate Change Conference, he will grapple with significant divides in domestic public opinion.

On October 31, world leaders and climate experts will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. These meetings represent a much-anticipated opportunity for countries to coordinate action to decelerate climate change and mitigate its devastating effects. While US President Joseph Biden has vowed to make climate issues a priority for his administration, his ability to deliver in Glasgow will depend in large part on politics at home. The 2021 Chicago Council Survey data indicate that the administration will grapple with significant partisan divisions not only in Congress but also among the American public. Along with immigration, climate change is consistently one of the most starkly polarizing American foreign policy issues.

Key Findings

  • Large majorities of Democrats think the United States should play a leading role on limiting climate change (81%) and consider it to be a critical threat (82%).
  • By contrast, only 31 percent of Republicans support a leading US role on limiting climate change, and just 16 percent consider it a critical threat.
  • Gallup polling shows that seven in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents (71%) place a higher priority on protecting the environment than on economic growth. Nearly as many Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (68%) emphasize economic growth over environmental protection.
  • Both partisan groups are less likely to favor protecting the environment than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on the US economy.
About the Authors
Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years of experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys. Prior to joining the Council to lead its annual survey of American attitudes on US foreign policy, she served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research from 1992 to 2008.
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Emily Sullivan
Former Research Assistant, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Emily Sullivan
Emily Sullivan joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2021 and was a research assistant on the Public Opinion team.
Headshot for Emily Sullivan
Colin Wolff
Former Intern
Colin Wolff joined the Public Opinion team in the Fall of 2021 as an intern.

Explore the full report